Could Mozilla Pull Off a Firefox OS?

by Ostatic Staff - Jun. 21, 2011

For years, Windows, Mac OS and Linux users have shared a number of common concepts regarding what an operating system is and is not. These leading operating systems emphasize local and networked models for working with data, rely on file systems, and share many other conceptual approaches. But there are many questions being asked about whether this old guard of operating systems can stay dominant going forward, as mobile technology usage explodes, and as cloud-based computing models proliferate. ExtremeTech asks a good question of Mozilla along these lines: Where is the Firefox OS?

If it seems like a far-fetched idea for Mozilla to consider expanding the Firefox browser's scope more in the direction of what an operating system does, just consider what Google has done with Chrome OS.  Chrome OS is a reinvention of what an operating system does, and uses the Chrome browser's interface as the central part of its environment. It replaces many functions that were previously associated with file systems and local storage with cloud-based analogs to these concepts. It is, effectively, a lateral move from the browser to the cloud, with some Linux-based underpinnings, that raises questions about what an operating system really is.

ExtremeTech notes this:

 "There is a strong chance that Windows 8, when it arrives in 2012, will be the last conventional, installed-application, file system-driven consumer operating system. With the popularity of mobile computing, there has been an overarching shift towards simpler, application-oriented interfaces...In recent years, the web browser has become more and more like an operating system. HTML5, with local storage, audio controls, and other low-level APIs make an ideal framework for browser (web) apps, and JavaScript performance has come along in leaps and bounds. WebGL provides a high-performance pipe to underlying graphics hardware, and SVG and CSS allow for apps that fit all form factors and screen sizes."

The real enabling technology behind this significant shift is the web. Many users are comfortable working within cloud-based apps that the browser serves as a reliable platform for running. So why doesn't Mozilla expand Firefox's horizons by producing a product similar to Chrome OS? As ExtremeTech notes, because the Chromium core of Google's Chrome OS is open source, Mozilla could even base such a new operating system on Chromium, with the Firefox interface on top of it:

"Mozilla, in fact, is in the perfect position to create an open, free alternative to Chrome OS and Windows 8. It could be called Firefox OS. Mozilla could even build it on Chromium OS, the open source brother of Chrome OS. You could strip out the Chrome browser and replace it with Firefox."

This idea is really not so far-fetched, and could radically change Mozilla's business model. Just as Google has gotten into bed with hardware partners backing Chrome OS--in similar fashion to how Microsoft has worked closely with hardware partners over the years--Mozilla could do the same. 

As we noted recently, Apple's OS X Lion already includes a way to run the Safari browser in a sandbox as the central interface for cloud-centric computing, which is taking a page directly from the Chrome OS playbook. Don't be surprised to see Mozilla move quickly in this direction, as the major browsers that Firefox competes with become ever more like operating systems.