Open-source software developer Mozilla yesterday shed new light on its plan to phase out its Firefox operating system and instead focus on solutions for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, with an emphasis on ensuring IoT data privacy and security.
In a bulletin posted on its website, Mozilla provided a detailed timeline for discontinuing development of its mobile Firefox OS and smartphone operations, a decision the group originally disclosed in December 2015. According to this latest announcement, the forthcoming release of Firefox OS version 2.6 will be Mozilla's last. Version 2.5 was released in November 2015.
Additionally, Mozilla's open, non-proprietary online Marketplace for web apps will stop accepting submissions for Android devices, desktop machines and tablet devices, and will remove all apps that don't support the Firefox OS. New Firefox apps will be accepted up until 2017, though no cut-off date was specified.
As Mozilla pivots to connected devices and the Internet of Things, its team is experimenting with a new “product innovation” development process and will shift the focus of its "foxfooding" software testing program from smartphone solutions to IoT solutions, the announcement continued.
“Obviously, these decisions are substantial. The main reason they are being made is to ensure we are focusing our energies and resources on bringing the power of the web to IoT,” said Mozilla in its statement, jointly attributed to John Bernard, Director, Collaboration, Connected Devices and George Roter, Head of Core Contributors, Participation. "We're entering this exciting, fragmented space to ensure users have choice through interoperable, open solutions, and for us to act as their advocates for data privacy and security.”
Tony Wasserman, Professor of Software Management Practice at Carnegie Mellon University - Silicon Valley, attributed Mozilla's shift in direction to inherent challenges and complexities within the mobile ecosystem. With phone manufacturers and wireless carriers proving to be highly selective in determining which operating systems they will integrate and do business with, "It's increasingly difficult for an app developer to justify from a business perspective providing an app on a platform other than iOS and Android," Wasserman wrote to SC Magazine in an email interview. "I think that Mozilla is doing the right thing by shifting its resources from an area where their chances for large-scale success are minimal, and focusing on IoT, an area that is increasingly important in everyone's lives."
Justly or not, open-source software projects are viewed in some circles as security risks due to the sometimes unwieldy nature of having a broad base of developers able to modify code at will. With that in mind, Mozilla's commitment to privacy and security will be tested in the still immature IoT space, where concerns over data protection are mounting rapidly.
"I have no doubt that all of the makers of IoT operating systems and devices will have to address security concerns over time, but I don't see that as being risky for the open source movement, not least because the makers of today's proprietary operating systems are also finding the need to regularly release security-related patches to their software," said Wasserman, also a Board of Directors member at the Open Source Initiative (though he clarified that he was offering his own personal opinion, not an official stance of the OSI).
Wasserman said he thinks it is important that the source code of IoT devices be released under an OSI-approved open source license. "If I am going to rely on software to drive my car for me or to regulate my heartbeat, I would like to have the option of seeing the source code that controls those devices, even if I have no intention of modifying it," he said.