Mozilla Bringing Firefox OS to TVs, Tablets, Desktops

The Linux-based operating system is expanding from smartphones to more devices, as Panasonic embraces Firefox OS for a new generation of smart TVs.

Mozilla's Firefox Web browser once was limited to just desktop and notebook computers running on top of existing operating systems, but that's no longer the case. In a series of announcements today at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Mozilla announced new Firefox OS efforts to bring the open-source browser operating system to TVs, tablets and even desktop PCs.

The Firefox OS effort first began back in 2011 under the name Boot to Gecko (B2G) and was rebranded Firefox OS in July 2012. Gecko is the name of the core rendering engine that powers Firefox, and the idea of B2G was to have a thin Linux base tightly integrated with Firefox as the foundation of a new operating system. In 2013, the first Firefox OS smartphones began to enter the market.

Now consumer electronics giant Panasonic is jumping into the fray with a new Firefox OS-powered smart TV effort. Merwan Mereby, Panasonic's U.S. vice president of the Interactive Content and Services Group, told eWEEK the Firefox OS support will land on Panasonic smart TVs later in 2014 on a global basis.

"We share a mutual vision—that is, we want to support an open and independent platform based on HTML 5—and we found that the Mozilla Firefox OS platform is the ideal way for us to accomplish that vision," Mereby said. "We're starting with smart TVs, but this could potentially go through the entire Panasonic ecosystem."

Firefox OS support will be natively embedded at the system-on-a-chip level of Panasonic's smart TV platforms, Mereby said. The idea is to deliver a unified experience for TV viewing, a program guide and Internet connectivity.

From a financial perspective, the relationship between Panasonic and Mozilla does not involve any revenues flowing to Mozilla.

"This is an open collaboration," Mereby said.

Andreas Gal, vice president of Mobile at Mozilla, told eWEEK that the goal with Firefox OS is to build an open environment where companies can contribute to improving the overall open source code. Vendors working on Firefox OS, including Panasonic, contribute to the project the code changes they make, making it better for everyone, according to Gal.

Gal, one of the co-founders of Mozilla's Boot to Gecko effort, added that the original idea of the effort wasn't about smartphones or TVs, but rather about tablets.

At CES, consumer electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn is helping to push Gal's original Firefox OS vision for tablets forward. Mozilla together with Foxconn is now making reference hardware available for Firefox OS based tablets.

Gal explained that a key driver for pushing out a hardware reference platform is to enable an open architecture for Firefox OS-based tablets right from the beginning.

"As we move along in 2014, you will see the tablet version of Firefox OS mature, and at some point it should be ready for consumer-facing devices," Gal said. "The reference hardware with Foxconn is targeted at developers that want to help us build the tablet version of Firefox OS."

Mozilla is also working with platform vendor VIA in an effort to bring Firefox OS to stand-alone desktop PCs. VIA will now be supporting Firefox OS on its APC Rock motherboard and Paper computer platform technologies, both of which are initially being targeted at developers.

The idea of having a thin Linux operating system boot into a browser-based Web environment is not unique to Firefox OS. Google's Chrome OS has already achieved some market success, particularly with the Chromebook notebook platforms. Although Firefox OS is being targeted at TVs, desktops, tablets and smartphones, Gal doesn't see a Firefox OS-based notebooks anytime soon.

Firefox OS is largely focused on emerging markets, where notebooks are less relevant than smart phones, TVs and tablets, according to Gal.

The last two and half years that he has been working on Boot to Gecko and Firefox OS have gone by quickly with lots of evolution, Gal said.

"The project is really maturing very quickly and at an astonishing pace," he said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.