We 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.
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.