Attending the Mozilla Summit 2013 and talking with our community about the exciting future of Firefox OS, the one concern I heard voiced most often was the difficulty of participating in Firefox OS. It was simply out of reach to most people I talked to.
No doubt, Firefox OS is an open source project. The code’s been there since before day 1. But access to source code does not a successful open source project make. Firefox OS felt to many I’ve spoken with to be far less participatory than Firefox the browser. The primary reasons for this, IMO, are the lack of widely available Firefox OS hardware and regular Firefox OS testing binaries.
With Firefox the browser, anyone anywhere in the world can download and get updates for a Mozilla-hosted binary of Firefox on a daily basis. They can download the active development “Nightly” build to see the changes that landed in the browser since yesterday. They can also download and get updates for the more stable “Aurora” and “Beta” channels. And because Firefox runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux, most people had no problem trying it out on their existing computers.
Firefox the browser is easy to try out. Firefox OS is not.
With Firefox OS, only Mozilla employees or employees of Mozilla partners can download development builds and get updates. This is because there are a few pieces down in the phone’s software stack that are not Mozilla’s code and for which Mozilla doesn’t have license to distribute. And, even if our community could download development builds of Firefox OS, the hardware to put that on has been very limited. If you’re not in a region with a Mozilla partner shipping Firefox OS phones, your options were very limited.
Mozilla tried to hack around the problems a couple of times over the last year, with limited success.
Flame is Mozilla’s investment in solving those problems for real.
Mozilla partnered with a company called Thundersoft to design, build, and update a phone that contains all of the hardware we’re targeting in the next year or so. Thundersoft has already made and delivered 2,000 Flame phones to Mozilla and we are rolling those out now to the core Firefox OS teams and community. We’ve got the retail site up which is selling an additional 5,000 Flame phones, and we’re hard at work on making nightly builds available to these devices.
The Flame phone won’t fix everything, but it should go a long way towards empowering our community to participate in Firefox OS and to generate the kinds of community impact on scale that we’ve seen in our Firefox browser community for years.