Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker: Firefox OS targets all of humanity, not just Apple iOS users

Mozilla Chairman Mitchell Baker

Mozilla Chairman Mitchell Baker, left, at Quartz’s Next Billion event in Seattle.

While Apple was busy in San Francisco announcing a new set of features that will wow its fan boys, Mozilla’s Chairman Mitchell Baker was in Seattle discussing devices and tools that can that support a more broader and global community.

“Humanity is smart. Sometime in the technology world we think we are smarter, but we are not smarter than you. Humanity has immense problems right now,” she said, adding that they won’t be solved from tech hubs, like Seattle and California. “We need to provide the tools not to give to people, but to have tools that will be enabling.”

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Mozilla is best known for its open-source browser that competes against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari, but today, she mostly talked about the next community-driven project they are working on: a mobile operating system that will power low-cost smartphones, tablets and other devices for the developing world.

“Silicon Valley and iOS users are not our initial target market, over time, yes, but our target market is for people seeking local content, affordability and accessibility, and more importantly, types of content that aren’t currently being solved by the (app) store,” she said.

In fact, Mozilla, with open source developers spread across the world, is starkly different in its mission than the Googles, Microsofts and Apples of the world. Baker noted today that Mozilla is trying to make a layer of the Internet that is a global public resource.

“That’s our goal. It is not financial return for shareholders,” she said.

So far, Firefox OS devices have gone on sale in 15 markets with support from multiple phone operators and handset manufacturers. A reference device, called Flame, is available in the U.S. for developers for $175. Baker, who was interviewed at by editor Kevin Delaney Quartz’s Next Billion event in Seattle, where the conversations focused on how to build technologies serving the next billion people as they come online.

The juxtaposition between Baker’s comments and Apple’s presentations today were vast. She stressed creating decentralized tools that can be leveraged by any developer in any village around the world, not walled-off systems that are managed by one entity.

It’s a mission, she said, that’s more easily accomplished when there power is not centralized and there’s no financial requirement to shareholders.

“That is a distinct world view. Sometimes when people ask me what is the greatest asset of Mozilla, that’s my answer. We actually see the world differently,” she said. “We have the technical talent to architect and design and build a global platform that is different. It is designed to have decision-making at the edges. Not just your decision making the way I decide you can.”

She added that the Mozilla mission is a demanding task.

“It’s very hard to spin something if you are dependent upon large numbers of volunteer communities around the world, who are participating because they believe in the mission and they see results — and they see themselves engaged in a way that’s really enough. We grow our communities, partly because that’s how we build and compete with companies the size of Google or Apple or Microsoft.”

  • CLM3Chip

    I love the idea behind the cloud/browser-based Firefox OS. Having said that, Mozilla isn’t the only organization pursuing an operating system that targets all of humanity; Google Chrome, which is also a cloud/browser-based operating system, is trying to do the same thing. Actually, I think Chrome OS is ahead of Firefox OS in moving towards that goal because Chrome OS is currently better suited for desktop/laptop use than Firefox OS is, but could also be used in all-touchscreen devices.

    Regardless whether Chrome OS, Firefox OS, or both gain traction, I think browser-based operating systems lend themselves to cross-form factor use more easily than device-based operating systems. They don’t absolutely require fans, so they can be used in all-touchscreen devices, but they can also can function well on low-end hardware, as has been shown on some of the chromebooks currently available. A browser-based operating system is also less prone to performance degragation and is much easier to update and maintain than a device-based operating system. More simply, they combine (or at least have the strong potential to combine) the historical cost advantages of Microsoft products with the historical ease of use advantages of Apple products.

    It’s too bad the current unlocked Firefox OS smartphones (specifically the ZTE model) can only utilize 3G GSM networks, because I’d buy one on eBay in a heartbeat to check it out and see how well it works. (My wireless carrier is Verizon Wireless, which uses CDMA for 3G data signals.)

    • huh?

      None of what you wrote about “browser-based operating systems” is actually true or would be unique to such a thing. Firefox OS may be “new” but it isn’t a new operating system either in concept or in implementation. It’s Android with a semi-new presentation layer based on a platform that has been around for awhile (Gecko). Even the concept itself has been done before (webOS). And no, webOS was not less prone to performance degradation, nor was it easier to update than any other mobile OS. It was easier to tinker with in many ways, but that could be considered a disadvantage, depending on where you are sitting.

      • foolishgrunt

        Firefox OS is Android? Is that based on the fact that they both use the Linux kernel? Why not take it a step further and say that both are basically Slackware with a “semi-new presentation layer”?

  • Tiki

    HA! Bullshit, they can’t even make a functioning OS, 29 is a huge pile of shit.

  • Phil Moskowitz

    The current batch of executives at Mozilla seem autistic to concerns of their users. Australis showed as keen a market understanding as those who thought Windows 8 was a good idea. Placing any faith in Mozilla at this point is a bold move indeed.