Mike Isaac

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Mozilla’s CEO Makes a Case for the Firefox Mobile OS

gary_kovacs2No one likes a duopoly — in the tech business industry, that is. And one of the largest duopolies today is the mobile OS split between Apple’s iOS operating system and Google’s Android.

Mozilla, the foundation behind the popular Firefox Web browser, wants to take the lead amid the multiple companies vying for third place. The company is working on the Firefox OS, a mobile system software initiative similar to what Google is doing with the Chrome OS for the desktop. In a nutshell, it’s taking the set of standards coding for a browser environment and bringing it to an entire operating system for the phone.

Here’s the thing: If the duopoly of the massively popular Android and iOS is working for consumers — and sales prove that it obviously is — why do we need a new operating system entirely?

Or, as Walt Mossberg put it so aptly: “Firefox OS. What the f**k?”

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs’s answer, in two words: The ecosystem.

Kovacs made the case for Firefox OS at our D: Dive Into Mobile conference today, claiming that while consumers may enjoy the many apps they have now, that experience will grow exponentially if Firefox OS is adopted.

“Our whole mission is to stimulate the ecosystem,” Kovacs said, citing the first wave of innovation that Mozilla’s Firefox browser created years ago when first released. “The number of people, websites and experiences exploded.”

The main pitch here is to developers: Unlike Android or iOS, Firefox OS apps are based on open Web standards, which many developers came of age using over the rise of the first dot-com boom.

And that could appeal to coders in the developing world, where the Firefox OS is really targeted. Worldwide low-cost (under $150) smartphone shipments are forecast to grow to 311 million in 2016, after having doubled every year since 2010, according to research data from NPD group. Markets like South America, Africa and Asia are ripe for the targeting in going after the low end.

Of course, Kovacs and company will face stiff competition, as both Google and Facebook are going after international emerging markets with Android and Facebook Home, respectively.

Kovacs admits that we may not see the ecosystem explode right off the bat. The company expects the first wave of devices to kick things off, while hoping for wider appeal later on, after developers (hopefully) take up arms and start creating apps for the OS.

“This is a V1 product,” Kovacs said. “Short-term, it will be a brand appeal. But the innovation will explode later.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work