Firefox OS Bets Big on HTML5

Update - 3/8/2013 6:39 PM

Thanks to Costa Michailidis for engaging and teaching me something new about HTML5. The challenge of creating an HTML5-based mobile OS might be less impossible than this reporter initially believed. See comments below for details. 

Mozilla is banking its future on a fairly risky proposition: that the mobile app craze is just a passing fad.

With the failure of its iPhone app last year, the company grudgingly accepted its role as iOS pariah and proceeded to lift a play directly out of Google's game plan.

There will be no more native apps from Mozilla - only fully virtualized mobile platforms built on HTML5 and running on top of Linux.

This is far from a novel concept.

First of all, it's basically what Google Chrome is.

Second, a slew of high-profile companies have already attempted moving away from native code to HTML5 to power their mobile apps. None have taken off.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, an early proponent of HTML5, famously told TechCrunch Disrupt in 2012 that staking his company's mobile future on the unproven protocol was "one of the biggest mistakes, if not the biggest strategic mistakes we've ever made."

The fundamental problem with HTML5 is the fact that no matter how powerful a device you run it on, the overall performance will always be tied to the amount of bandwidth available at any given moment. The user experience is streamed in its entirety over the air.

As just about any big city-based iPhone user can attest to, it's practically impossible to find enough bandwidth in places like New York to update your newsfeed on Facebook. So it shouldn't take much imagination to envision what it would be like to stream the whole of iOS 6, persistently throughout the day, simply to power your device.

The move to HTML5 reflects a more general industry trend that sees data migrating away from local hard drives and up into the aether (i.e. a cloud-based server farm most likely owned by Amazon). The key difference however, between something like Google Docs and Firefox OS is that the former streams data, while the latter attempts to stream applications.

Whether that paradigm represents the way of the future remains to be seen, but for Mozilla at least, the prospects seem dim, according to Engadget.

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