Resignations Signal Generational Change at Apache Foundation
Why Gnome 2 Continues to Win the Desktop Popularity Contest
Where Open Hardware Is Today
Huawei and Other Mobile 'Tech Giants': You Should (Really) Break Free from Google/Android
How User Revolts Shaped the Linux Desktop
January 7th, 2015

Firefox OS: It’s Not You, It’s Me

I hate breakups. Even when they’re for the best, breakups have a tendency never to go well when executed — a difficult but apt word for it — and there’s always some heartbreak involved.

So it breaks my heart to tell everyone that Firefox OS and I must go our separate ways.

It’s not you, Firefox OS. It’s me. While I know you’ll go on to thrive and find digital happiness without me in the wider FOSS world, I am sorry I’m not going to be a part of your future.

Firefox OS logoFor the last year, you and I have been pals joined at the hip — the hip pocket, at least — as the OS on my ZTE Open phone. You know I’m not very demanding; the ZTE with Firefox OS did what was expected of it when it comes to my very limited use of mobile devices. To me, using mobile means taking calls, making calls, and texting. That’s really it. We’ve discussed this before, and the limited-albeit-growing selection of software for Firefox OS phones and tablets is a testament to your predicted longevity and bright future.

Firefox OS, it’s just that I need a little more dependability. We’ll get to that in a minute.

I really don’t blame you for leaving me on the side of the road last week, proverbially speaking. When using a not-ready-for-prime-time system, there are bound to be glitches — surely far bigger ones than I encountered during the time we were together. My friends would tell me, sure, they use Firefox OS on devices in the same way a Mac user would use their iPad, but I scoffed at that. They thought I was brave — or crazy — for using Firefox OS on my daily smartphone. Surely, I believed, Firefox OS can work as a daily-use mobile operating system, and I wanted to show everyone that.

Not only this, I even updated from Firefox OS 1.0 to 1.1, and I had visions of going to version 1.2. The update to 1.1 went well and the several months of use were pretty uneventful — and I mean that in the best way possible. Oh, I wasn’t crazy about the search field at the top of the screen, which cut into the forehead of the “Godzilla facepalm” wallpaper, but I overlooked that. It was when I lost the bottom toolbar without any repair readily available — Google, Mozilla Forums and other sources I searched turned up nothing, save for a few other people in the same situation seeking the same help without answers — that I thought this relationship might be going south.

After a couple of days of searching the Internet and experimenting to get the toolbar back, I surrendered to the factory reset. There was nothing really on the phone that I couldn’t replace, and the few numbers I had stored were easily replaceable.

So I pulled the battery, replaced it, held down up volume and on button to get System Recovery, Wipe Data/Factory Reset, then Reboot. Then you left me.

For the last few days, I’ve tried to replace the ZTE firmware and Firefox OS, and ran into signature errors on both counts. Both GPG and Java signature solutions gleaned from various sources seem to have both escaped or abandoned me, and now the “reset” has resulted in the blue Firefox OS screen immediately followed by the majestic fox with the flaming tail. And that’s it.

Last time I tried to reboot, I plugged in the power and let it boot for nearly two hours.

Nada.

While I barely scratch the surface when it comes to using a smartphone to its highest capability, I do need a phone that will keep working. That may be demanding, I know. Also, Firefox OS, I understand that you might think of me as unworthy because I may not be able to adequately sign a file (though, personally, I think I did everything right), and I’m not the sharpest spoon in the drawer when it comes to programming. But I try.

Because I use my smartphone as my first point of contact when doing freelance work — the number is on my business cards and on my web page — before going to the more appropriate hardware in my laptop bag or in my home computer lab, I need more day-in, day-out availability and less Wile E. Coyote holding up a sign saying, “Yikes.”

I’m sorry to be so blunt. But I am going back to an Android phone, which offers way too much and which has features I’ll never use. I will watch as you get your act together and take it on the road. My sincerest hope is that our paths will cross again someday, and I hope we can remain friends.

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

9 comments to Firefox OS: It’s Not You, It’s Me

  • On the bright side, being stuck on v1.1 meant that you haven’t had any security updates from the last year. Oh wait….

    On the bright side, development for the ZTE Open was abandoned as soon as it hit the shelves, and you never had to deal with the ALL CAPS KEYBOARD of v1.3

  • I feel like Mozilla is so desperately chasing other corporations that they aren’t really concerned with getting non-corporate persons involved with using and developing FirefoxOS.

    I’d love to participate, maybe learn to build some “web apps” for it,but I can’t afford to spend 100’s of dollars to buy one of the few specific devices that it can be built for.

    I do have at least two older devices with hardware specs that should be well within FirefoxOS requirements with full root and custom-recovery access currently running Android 4.x (a “Samsung Mesmerize” [“Galaxy S” variant] and a 2012 Nexus 7 tablet), but as far as I can tell you can only build FirefoxOS for a handful of specific devices and there doesn’t seem to be any documentation for (or even INTEREST IN) getting FirefoxOS on other devices. Surely one could copy any necessary “binary blobs” off of an Android install and put them where they’re needed in a FirefoxOS build, tight? ESPECIALLY for an unlocked Nexus device…

    I think Mozilla has lost their aim and now mostly care about corporate-to-corporate dealings and vagaries like “market share” detached from actual people outside Mozilla, inc. these days. It’s quite depressing.

  • Larry Cafiero

    I don’t completely agree, Epicanis. Yeah, while they’re at a disadvantage because Firefox OS isn’t available for a lot of hardware (hence, buying something to develop with — this is a carrot/stick problem), I think Mozilla’s effort is pretty noble and I don’t think it’s corporate driven. And I truly hope they succeed.

    As an aside, there’s some news of CES this week saying that Firefox OS is being used in some televisions, so there’s that.

  • Firefox OS’s use of HTML 5 based apps might make it a good fit for that use, Larry.

  • As much as we all complain about Canonical’s loss of focus on the desktop and Mozilla’s corporate failings, huge pot of money, et al., I continue to believe that there is nothing more important to the free-software world than the development of free operating systems for smartphone and tablet platforms.

    I’m willing to let the Ubuntu desktop go to hell if there is a free-software phone OS at the end of that particular tunnel.

    Regarding Mozilla, the browser is a core component of any mobile OS, so all of that work should dovetail nicely.

    And I know there are other projects out there like Jolla that are also trying to get into the smartphone space.

    But overall, we desperately need free choices for these devices, and I hope we get them.

  • “I think Mozilla’s effort is pretty noble and I don’t think it’s corporate driven.”

    I at least half-agree with you here – I’m still a big fan of what I’m still convinced they’re trying to accomplish.

    It just feels like one can’t really participate in the process without either being at least moderately wealthy to begin with (to buy one of the handful of devices available, ideally a “developer” device so you can actually develop and upgrade it, which naturally costs a lot of money by my standards), and you don’t get actively encouraged unless you’re a corporation that manufactures phones (or TVs, now). Communication that comes out of Mozilla “sounds” increasingly “corporate” as well, like the words are coming from “the corporation” rather than actual human beings (c.f. “The Cluetrain Manifesto”).

    I seem to recall that FirefoxOS is heavily based on AOSP, with chunks of it replaced by Mozilla-developed components (I would swear I remember adb being a component still in use by FirefoxOS, for example). Should I not be able to take an Android “firmware” image, unpack it, replace the necessary components with an appropriate build of FirefoxOS components, repack, and install, and (hypothetically) get a working FirefoxOS install? I can’t imagine that I’m the only potential enthusiast who has “old” devices that should be quite suitable for FirefoxOS and wants to try it out. Why does there seem to be no support or documentation effort to make this possible?
    Why is “I got FirefoxOS running on [random device]” not the new “I installed Linux on my router/media-player/toaster/dead badger” for mobile devices?

    I *really* want this. I want a legally-free OS that I can use on mobile devices. I want it so much that I would take one of my old devices and replace Android 4.x with FirefoxOS on it, and then for apps/features that it doesn’t seem to have that I want (offline map/directory-based media player/legally-free epub reader) I’d at least TRY to stubbornly bang my amateurish HTML5/javascript skills against the problem to develop apps rather than go back to Android.

    …but I can’t, apparently. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially given that I feel like FirefoxOS has been our best shot at a mobile OS really intended for “open web” rather than “most benefit for [insert corporate developer here]”.

  • “‘I think Mozilla’s effort is pretty noble and I don’t think it’s corporate driven.’
    I at least half-agree with you here – I’m still a big fan of what I’m still convinced they’re trying to accomplish…”

    “…Should I not be able to take an Android “firmware” image, unpack it, replace the necessary components with an appropriate build of FirefoxOS components, repack, and install, and (hypothetically) get a working FirefoxOS install? I can’t imagine that I’m the only potential enthusiast who has “old” devices that should be quite suitable for FirefoxOS and wants to try it out. Why does there seem to be no support or documentation effort to make this possible?
    Why is “I got FirefoxOS running on [random device]” not the new “I installed Linux on my router/media-player/toaster/dead badger” for mobile devices?

    I *really* want this. I want a legally-free OS that I can use on mobile devices. I want it so much that I would take one of my old devices and replace Android 4.x with FirefoxOS on it, and then for apps/features that it doesn’t seem to have that I want (offline map/directory-based media player/legally-free epub reader) I’d at least TRY to stubbornly bang my amateurish HTML5/javascript skills against the problem to develop apps rather than go back to Android.

    …but I can’t, apparently. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially given that I feel like FirefoxOS has been our best shot at a mobile OS really intended for ‘open web’…”

    Amen.

  • François-Marie Arouet

    Firefox used to be cool when it was a bastion of freedom in a world in Internet Explorer.
    Then Firefox tried to be more than it.
    It took a unbias situation and made it bias.
    It made it so that 50%+ of the California population who chose to exercice their rights as citizen to feel as somewhat less than a citizen.
    That’s the day Firefox/Mozilla died for me.

    Je Suis Brendan Eich.
    And while I may or may not agree with his opinions, I will fight for his right to have those opinions.

    Firefox stopped being about technology first and stepped out of bounds.

    Im not going to compare them of course to other groups that would prefer that opinions not be spoken but the ‘our truth cannot coexist with any truth’ comes from the same place. That place which tells some people that “I AM RIGHT and you are wrong.” Fanatics come in all sorts.

    Firefox is dead to me because it decided to put non-technical issue over technical one. And one of the main reason why free software is the libre part.
    Liberte pour tous pas seulement pour quelques uns.

  • […] update: Yeah, I may have broken up with Firefox OS recently, but that doesn’t mean I have given up on the browser. Firefox 35 […]