Install Earth’s latest smartphone OS on your desktop computer – if you’re a Firefox user it’s just a couple of clicks away.
Curious about FirefoxOS, which is for sale now? That makes sense: this open source, royalty-free operating system is bound to pop up on phones all over the planet eventually, but odds are a phone running it is not yet available in your country right now. Don’t worry: you can still give it a spin on your computer – all you need is a single Firefox extension. With it you can run a virtual version of FirefoxOS, and find out whether Mozilla’s smartphone operating system is right for you, this is your chance to find out.
We told you how to test FirefoxOS, but the system’s come a long way – so we thought we’d share an overview of this smartphone OS.
Installing FirefoxOS in Firefox
To get started, fire up Firefox (if you haven’t already). You’re going to want to install the FirefoxOS Simulator extension from Mozilla.org for version 3. If you’re brave, check out the FirefoxOS Simulator Alpha version. Either way, the extension is around 50 MB, and you’ll probably see warnings about an unresponsive script. Ignore them.
Once you do get everything installed, you might not know where to click. I know I didn’t. Here’s the trick: click “Tools” in the menu. You’ll find the simulator under “Web Developer”:
Click that and you’ll see the following screen. Click the “Simulator” button to turn this on:
And with that, you’re in. Time to test this sucker.
The Main Screen
FirefoxOS boots to a lock screen, as is typical. Drag the screen to the right to see your icons:
It’s a familiar grid for a smartphone, and you can customize by tapping-and-holding – also standard in most systems these days. So what’s unique about FirefoxOS? Scroll to the left to find out. You’ll discover this screen, where you can browse all apps:
Because FirefoxOS apps are built on HTML5, you don’t need to “install” them to use them – they’re kind of like webapps. So you can explore a category of apps and try any of them out, all without “installing” anything at all. Having said that, you can tap-and-hold any icon to add it to the home screen.
The dynamic app search is kind of awesome. With it you can type any phrase and see relevant apps – click them to be taken to relevant content within the app. For example: I typed “Toronto Maple Leafs”:
As you can see, the wallpaper behind the icons changed – that was so quick I didn’t even notice it. Tapping any of these apps will direct me to content about the Leafs (the Wikipedia button goes to an article about the Leafs, the ESPN app gives me Leafs headlines etc).
It’s a different way to think about search, and I think I like it.
Marketplace And Default Apps
In addition to this dynamic search, FirefoxOS comes with it’s own “app store”: Marketplace. It’s worth noting that all of the “apps” are basically webapps, but it’s still a great way to quickly discover the programs you’re used to using on your phone.
There are a number of apps baked into the system. For example, there’s a music player. It found my music automatically, making it easy to test:
Note that, for me, all my music showed up but only OGG files would play. Your experience may vary.
There’s also an image gallery app, which found and showed me all of my pictures. They’re arranged chronologically:
I’m impressed – I wasn’t expecting this little OS simulator to integrate so well with my computer. It gave me a feel for how music and photos will work on a phone, and I think I like it.
If you’re so inclined, you can set up the email, calendar and other apps – it will really give you a feel for how these things work on FirefoxOS.
Facebook And Twitter For FirefoxOS
While testing, I tried two different apps: Twitter and Facebook. Installation with the market was a breeze, and the apps themselves ran quite well. What you see is what you get – it’s basically the mobile version of the respective sites. But because of the way FirefoxOS works, it doesn’t feel like a web app – there’s no address bar, and generally the apps feel separate from each other.
For me the experience felt snappy, which makes sense – these are versions of these sites designed to run on lightweight devices.
You can explore the apps available without FirefoxOS – just head to Marketplace.Firefox.com
Why would I want to do this? It’s not like it can make phone calls…
Because it’s cool! Man, if you have to ask, you’re probably not the target audience here…
What’s the point of HTML5 apps? I want something that can be installed…
The nice thing about these apps is they’ll work on any device. But yes, there are downsides…there’s a reason Facebook switched from HTML5 for their iOS and Android apps
Is this the future of smartphones?
I don’t know about that, but I do like it. Perfect for lightweight phones, and it will be amazing to see what it can do with capable hardware
Please leave any other questions, ideas or pretty much anything related to FirefoxOS in the comments below. Looking forward to the conversation, especially how you like the search function.