Firefox OS for smartphones launched by Mozilla

Mozilla has made good on its pledge to use the power of the web to deliver a unique of smartphone operating system at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The open source software firm took the wraps off the first commercial build of its Firefox OS at the event, and said it is already working with manufacturers Alcatel, LG and ZTE to build the first slew of devices featuring the software.

These devices will be powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon mobile processers, confirmed Firefox, and Huawei is also expected to join its list of smartphone OEM partners later this year.

The real acid test for Firefox OS and its long-term prospects is the quality of the software itself and the user experience.

The first wave of Firefox OS devices will go on sale in Brazil, Columbia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela. No concrete details have given about when UK consumers can expect to get their hands on one, although reports suggest it may not be until at least 2014.

Mozilla claims the Firefox OS will be the first smartphone operating system to be built on open web standards, such as HTML 5. This will allow end users to download apps from the Firefox Marketplace, as well as directly from developers' websites.

By comparison, Apple iOS, Google Android and Windows Phone users are generally restricted to downloading content for their devices from their respective app stores.

Gary Kovacs, chief executive of Mozilla, said the operating system will allow mobile users to take advantage of everything the web has to offer.

"With the support of our vibrant community and dedicated partners, our goal is to level the playing field and usher in an explosion of content and services that will meet the diverse needs of the next two billion people online," he said in a statement.

As well as OEM support, the firm has also announced a plethora of carriers, including Deutsche Telekom, Telefnica and Three, who have agreed to back the devices in emerging markets.

Tony Cripps, principal device analyst at market watcher Ovum, said Mozilla has done well to win the support of such a wide range of manufacturers and carriers so early on.

However, he described the demonstration handsets on show at MWC as "slow and buggy", suggesting they are some way from being market ready.

"The real acid test for Firefox OS and its long-term prospects is the quality of the software itself and the user and developer experiences that it fosters," said Cripps.

"The [performance issues] must be overcome before Firefox OS devices find their way into consumers' hands.

"Even low-cost smartphones the primary target market for Firefox OS can't afford to hide behind price as a justification for poor performance," he added.

The open nature of the operating system and the apparent low-cost of its devices could prove to be a major differentiator for Mozilla in the crowded mobile space, which is largely dominated by the likes of Android and iOS.

However, the firm will definitely have a fight on its hands to make its presence felt, with Microsoft making a concerted effort on the mobile front of late, and fellow open source player Ubuntu also preparing to ship smartphones and tablets running its own software.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.