Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch: Who Will Prevail at MWC13?

Firefox OS Home ScreenWe are all aware of the current mobile duopoly which is iOS and Android, but at the Mobile World Congress or MWC13, as its commonly being called, there will be a line up of two platforms that attendees will be eager to have a look at: Firefox OS and Ubuntu. Indeed there will be other contenders like Tizen and Sailfish OS, but let’s be honest, if any two open source platforms have a chance of breaking up the mobile duopoly, the best bet is in Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch.

So between Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch which platform will have the most buzz? I’m betting on Firefox OS considering their platform is mature. has a great line up of apps, and perhaps the better development tools when compared to Ubuntu Touch, which seems to be building its platform on using a mashup of Cyanogenmod and demo applications that are mostly just a UI shell and for all purposes are demoware.


I have tried out the Ubuntu Touch image on a Galaxy Nexus device. I have also had multiple opportunities to test the Firefox OS platform on development devices, Comparing the two, I found the Firefox OS UI not only to be much faster and more fluid to the Touch, but months ago, when I was playing around with Firefox OS, it was much more mature than the Ubuntu Touch platform is today.


Firefox OS already has a impressive line up of apps available in the Firefox Marketplace, many of which are officially supported by the service providers. Ubuntu Touch mostly has non-functional demo applications and has no official support from the likes of Twitter, Evernote and other major services. In fact, just a few days ago I asked someone at Canonical whether they even had permission to use the  trademarked branding of Twitter, Facebook and Skype and they had no clue and thought that the trademark policies of these brands would openly allow them to use the brands and make a show like there was official support from these brands for the Ubuntu Touch platform.

Development Advocacy

Firefox OS set out from the start to not only provide excellent developer tools to contributors but also to host events worldwide to support and accelerate app development by supporting its local communities worldwide through the Mozilla Reps program. Ubuntu has yet to use and empower its LoCo’s (Local Communities) to host events and bring potential developers into the fold.

Firefox OS boasts a emulator for the Ubuntu Desktop yet Ubuntu Phone has no comparable emulator so developers can test their apps and see how they function.


Firefox OS has been an open platform from the start and has had a very open dialogue with its community while Ubuntu Touch has seen a lot of behind the scenes privacy and limited involvement with the Ubuntu Community. It would seem this walled garden approach that Canonical has taken in launching the Ubuntu Touch platform may have actually hindered progress.

Firefox OS being a project of Mozilla, which is a non-profit, is also better geared to be a more open and transparent platform considering that Mozilla does not have the same commercial aspirations that Canonical has.


Mozilla has been touted as one of the most trusted internet companies when it comes to user privacy while Canonical has faced criticism both from its community and from the greater open source community for privacy fails in its Unity dash. It is unclear what impact the privacy concerns that were raised by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Software Foundation will have when it comes to consumers making decisions on whether to trust this mobile data with a platform that Canonical controls and seems unwilling to bend to community feedback.

“I’m astonished by Canonical’s blatant disregard for providing a way to opt-in to this gaping privacy hole. This is a dramatic case of “calling home”, and provides a large amount of information about the user, in real-time.” pointed out Kees Cook, Google Developer and Former Ubuntu Security Engineer in his blog post.


I think Canonical has a long way to go not only from the app development aspect and refining their platform, but also in ensuring that end-users and the community feel like Canonical is being receptive to their concerns, because at the end of the day, Canonical is not buying the product. It’s the users and community members that have the buying power and the power to advocate for the platform being more greatly adopted.

As for Firefox OS, I believe all the right moves are being made and that’s clearly being shown with how remarkable the product is becoming already and how much interest has already been built surrounding the platform and the fact that Firefox OS has a thriving developer community while Ubuntu’s is still in an infancy stage.

Notably, I have been very critical as of late towards the decisions Canonical has been making with Ubuntu. These criticisms are not a result of my distaste for Canonical, but instead because Canonical has made poor decisions of which they have admitted to me in private. I think Canonical has an excellent opportunity to make excellent choices going forward. These choices will allow Ubuntu to be the platform that Mark Shuttleworth fondly talks about with buzzwords and the same platform that Ubuntu community members like myself and others also envision.



  1. says

    “a mashup of…”

    OK, thanks for the FUD, you don’t mention Qt at all, or is not mature enough for you? Besides, that’s nothing to do with the question “which will prevail at MWC”.

    • says

      What FUD? Ubuntu Touch is currently demoware that is fact. I do not need to mention Qt because this is not a editorial written about what language powers the eventual apps but instead what the current state of the platform is and how well it can compete considering consumer expectations.

      Firefox OS in contrast has 23 partner OEM’s and Carrierss… Canonical has none for Ubuntu Touch and does not have the better tools at this point in time. Ultimately Ubuntu Touch will likely see improved tools and more apps but thats not the case today… Not the case at MWC13 and not the case for some months or more.

  2. CameronN says

    You said that “Firefox OS already has a impressive line up of apps
    available in the Firefox Marketplace, many of which are officially
    supported by the service providers. Ubuntu Touch mostly has
    non-functional demo applications and has no official support from the
    likes of Twitter, Evernote and other major services.”, but all of the apps in Firefox Marketplace will easily work under Ubuntu Touch. In fact, I think Ubuntu Touch already has support for webapps built in, so your argument is flawed. The only app differences between Ubuntu Touch and Firefox OS will be the apps that come pre-installed and apps written for QML or other native frameworks.

    • says

      They may work under Ubuntu Touch however they cannot just be copied over to the Ubuntu Marketplace since Mozilla made arrangements and worked with the respective companies and their developers to produce HTML5 apps.

      • Lucas Betschart says

        Wow, so Mozilla is really making building stuff for an Open Web / healthy competition but unfortunately their apps will only run / be available through the Mozilla Appstore?

          • abral says

            The web applications developed for Firefox OS will work everywhere, as they’re built with standard APIs. (I say “will” because some APIs aren’t still standardized and aren’t supported by every browser, but they eventually will be).

          • bmarkovic says

            They already have. It’s called “Software Center”, and it’s infrastructure will most likely be used as Ubuntu Touch app store (they insist that the phablet OS is just Ubuntu meaning they will likely insist that it’s a single ecosystem across form factors).

            However, since HTML5 apps are first-class citizen on Ubuntu Touch it will take very little politics and no tech to have those apps on Ubuntu, and who knows, they might make provisions so that you can use Firefox marketplace from their phone (Mozilla won’t mind anyway I’m sure there will be Firefox mobile native app for Ubuntu Phone in no time)

            • abral says

              Actually some applications are using some Firefox-only APIs (that are going to be standardized). So for now you can’t use them from Ubuntu Touch, but in the future you probably will. (but not in the near term)

            • abral says

              My sentence wasn’t false, but I should’ve added “if you use Firefox”.
              But the API to install applications is probably going to be standardized, so in the future you’ll be able to install from every browser :)

            • Guest says

              Not sure what you’re “quoting”, but the apps & marketplace are all based on openly documented standards in progress. That sounds like an error message somewhere you see when you try a browser that doesn’t (yet?) support the appropriate API calls.

              • bmarkovic says

                You’re right (technically). It’s latest Chromium stable.

                But that also means it’s Webkit. And that means WebRT (and some other APIs FF uses) are not present in 99% of mobile browser engines deployed today.

                There is this problem with open standards, and I’ll let a picture say a thousand words to save me some typing.


                In other words, they should have done what WHATWG has done: standardize what’s already being used on a large scale. And what’s already being used on a large scale is Apache Cordova ak Phonegap and APIs they defined.

                I don’t know the internals but this does sound like a severe case of NotInventedHere-itis on Mozilla’s end. And that’s just plain wrong.

                Hopefully Cannonical will prove smarter and support Phonegap-like API, or at very least not invent their own third solution..

        • DigDug2k says

          No. I don’t know where this info came from, but AFAIK, the webapp.install protocols are all documented and being standardized. Any browser can impelement them and things will just work (AFAIK, Google has outright refused to do this with the Chrome webstore stuff).

          Likewise, all of the buit-in Gaia apps aren’t on the store (they’re built in!), but are open source and could be put up or modified.

          I’m not sure of any “arrangements” that have been made to produce HTML5 apps, but I’m confident Mozilla hasn’t made any deals that preclude shipping that same code on any device supporting the necessary HTML5 APIs. In fact, that’s kinda the point of the whole “tear down the walled gardens” idea.

  3. Jeffrey says

    “…but let’s be honest, if any two open source platforms have a chance of breaking up the mobile duopoly, the best bet is in Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch.”

    Tizen has carriers not only backing it but taking part of it’s development (since it’s basically a continuation of the LiMo Foundation). Not to mention Samsung who’s currently the largest mobile phone manufacturer and has probably the best relationship with carriers.

    Here’s a list of the Tizen’s board members:
    Fujitsu, Huawei, Intel, KT, NEC, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Panasonic, Samsung, SK Telecom, Sprint, Vodafone.

    It’s very important to know the odds before placing a bet.

    • says

      I do not need to know the who’s who of Tizen’s Board of Directors… There are plenty of projects that have notable Board’s and Investors etc.

      The fact is Tizen is widely unknown to the world…. Ubuntu and Firefox OS are better known and have more money and bigger names than Tizen.

  4. Alan Bell says

    I think that is a reasonable assessment of the current situation, FirefoxOS is much closer to ready now, maybe Ubuntu Touch needs another year or two to get started. If they are not dependent on a fast entry to the market it might find a niche at some point.

    • says

      Do you not think the entry has been a bit fast already? I mean would you as a Ubuntu User not enjoyed the Developer Release that much more if the Core Apps had been finished and there were not any placeholders?

      • Alan Bell says

        well actually I would like it if they released more details of the architecture earlier, and did less press stuff around how it looks until later.

  5. Agmenor says

    This is an interesting analysis, Benjamin! I am also a little bewildered since Ubuntu and Firefox are both brands I value a lot.

    For me, the main difference between the two is the interface. I have tested Firefox OS on my desktop and I find it extremelly similar to iOS and Android. It is a little déjà-vu. I prefer daring attempts like Windows (but this one is not user respectful).

    I acknowledge that most users prefer keeping the same interface for a few years (here since 2007), but this is not my case. I am ready and willing for a new experience.

    • Agmenor says

      That said, it is not impossible that the market changes a lot in the next few years and that there is room for at least two better mobile OSs.

  6. anonymous says

    I think you are completely biased.. probably being paid off by ff os… if you even bothered to look at the facts, you will note that ff os started its dev over 2 years ago.. where ubuntu touch started in nov of 2012.. so i think to compare the two and be so critical of ubuntu touch is just not fair, no one claimed that the current version of ubuntu touch is mature, market ready or any of the sort, its simply in the early alpha stages and being released to the public exactly BECAUSE of it being open source, if you look on the ubuntu site, alot of the apps and core of ubuntu touch is being developed by open source programmers… so if you are going to compare the two os, at least have the decency to compare apples to apples and not potatoes and cars….

  7. Gabriele Zucca says

    I think you didn’t considerate some important factors such as the GUI and the desktop convergence.

  8. says

    On the app front, given Ubuntu touch is touted as supporting html5 apps i see no reason why they couldn’t support the same APIs as Firefox OS. In fact i understood that was the whole point of FF OS – to promote an open api across mobile devices, whether or not that api is on Firefox or another platform is secondary. While Firefox OS does seem more mature at this point it’s really counter productive to spin this as a zero-sum game. Rather, the open platforms can and should support each other .

  9. Andrei B. says

    Interesting article.

    One (offtopic) thing to notice: when a word starts with a vowel, it should be preceded by ‘an’ not ‘a’. Example: ‘an editorial’, not ‘a editorial’.

    Sorry, grammar nazi, can’t help it.

  10. ike ahloe says

    i’m not sure why you feel tizen is not there at the top. i think if anything it’s sightly above ubuntu and firefox in potential acceptance. it can run android apps and it is much more mature and has a larger pool of companies supporting it. Now i’m personally rooting for Ubuntu, but i like tizen too.

  11. Thought My says

    I use Ubuntu on my desktop and to be honest it works for me it’s a pleasure to use and it offers me everything i need and more. That said i use Firefox on Ubuntu and the same applies for Firefox.

    Now let say this or next year i will have to choose a mobile device running FF or Ubuntu.

    Decision for me is not that hard to be honest for tablet i will choose Ubuntu and flash Android tablet because i don’t think i will wait for first Ubuntu tablets available next year on the market and for mobile phone it will probably be FF OS for now!

  12. bmarkovic says

    The problem with stanadards is that while you’re not the shit in some industry (and let’s be realistic here, Mozilla is not the shit in mobile industry) you don’t get to one-sidedly define standards, regardless of whether you publish specification and open it to other participants or not.

  13. Anonymous Coward says

    Ubuntu wins “Best Innovation” award at MWC 2013. This is MWC’s way of saying, you were wrong.

  14. john retired says

    The apps that appear on the marketplace are nothing but web pages as Apps. People are against these on the iOS but should be glad that they exist on the FirefoxOS!?

    You are right about one thing. Canonical will SACRIFICE user’s PRIVACY at every opportunity.

    Tizen is designed by committee, that’s in turn dictated by Samsung. It will be dumped when necessary when the time is right like Bada was dumped.

    But despite all of these platforms being described as open, they are all controlled by one entity: Android (Google); Tizen (Samsung); FirefoxOS (Mozilla), not to mentioned all the closed ones.

    They all surrender their users to control by others. Hardware and software manufacturers, carriers, etc. Firefox main appeal and why so much “industry” support is because they surrender all control to Carriers!

    So while in genesis, FirefoxOS seems better than Ubuntu or Tizen in the end buyers of FirefoxOS devices will be at the mercy of others. Privacy invasion, censorship, and so on…

    All of these new pretenders are, at the end of the day, nothing but noise, and in 3 to 5 years all will be gone.

    • skierpage says

      You simultaneously get and miss the point of Firefox OS. Firefox OS apps are HTML5 with extensions for functionality that has yet to be standardized, so Mozilla cedes control of much of its platform to W3C and WhatWG standards just as it does with its browser. And while Mozilla writes the app manifest that makes a web page into an app, anyone can run an app store and web pages don’t have to be in a store at all.

      Yes, *carrier* control is a big issue. So get an unlockable device and hope a community emerges to provide images for it.

      In 3-5 years the web obviously won’t be gone and I look forward to running HTML5 apps across all my devices using a confluence of the ideas from Firefox OS, Chrome apps, and further W3C standardization. (BTW I’m sure the halls of Google are subject to huge battles between “promote the Web” and “Android has won” camps.)

  15. David Planella says

    “Firefox OS boasts a emulator for the Ubuntu Desktop yet Ubuntu Phone has
    no comparable emulator so developers can test their apps and see how
    they function”

    That’s not quite correct. The fact that there isn’t an emulator does not stop developers from testing, neither is an emulator the solution to all development tasks.

    While we are still evaluating the options for an emulator, developers can easily test their applications on the desktop (no emulation or cross-compilation required) and on the device. I’ve yet have to come across a platform that provides those two features and in a way that’s so easy and seamless for developers to use. Tizen and Sailfish might have a similar offering, but I haven’t had the chance to test them yet.

    A more useful comparison might be to review the tools Firefox OS
    makes available to developers vs. the Ubuntu SDK. As far as I
    understand, Firefox’s developer offering consists of the emulator,
    documentation and the marketplace, but I could not find any reference to
    an SDK or the tools developers actually use to write the code.

    More info: