Firefox OS is one of the potential destabilizers of the mobile market in near future. Its native apps are web apps and it could mean one app for all platforms. Now there is an easy one-download way to try it out as a Firefox extension. It can also be used to test any apps you may have ready to go.
Firefox OS, which was formerly called boot to Gecko (B2G), is now available as an easy-to-install addin for Firefox. Go to the site, download the 60MByte file (using Firefox) and it will be automatically installed. To try out the OS all you then have to do is use the command Tools, Web Developer, Firefox OS Simulator. A new window will open and the OS will boot up. Currently it is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It is a bit slow and, on Windows in particular, it is unstable. However, it serves as a quick and easy way of trying out the OS and you can also use it to test any apps you might be developing for it.
Obviously you can't test things like the phone API, but there are a surprising number of functional APIs including messaging, which simulates normal operation.
This promises to be a standards-based way to build apps, but not just at the moment. The big problem is that Mozilla is having to invent a lot of APIs that provide access to phone hardware and these are not standards. Mozilla is promising to offer them to W3C once the details are worked out, but offering isn't the same thing as getting them accepted.
Google has an alternative to Firefox OS in the form of Chrome OS and it too has a set of APIs that it offers to apps. At the moment Chrome has the upper hand on laptops, if not phones, because you can buy a Chromebook. Firefox OS currently isn't available on any devices although its partner Telefonica intends to launch some devices in the coming months. There are also efforts to provide the OS so that it can be installed on existing devices.
So should you develop apps for Firefox OS?
Clearly it is early days and it is all a question of how many devices actually run the OS in the near future. This is not something that is easy to guess and some argue that the OS will mostly be used on low end feature phones, if it is used at all. However, the market for low end feature phones, especially ones that work as well as expensive smartphones, is huge.
There is also the small point that developing apps for Firefox OS is easy and many apps should run under Firefox desktop and mobile as well as the full OS.
Firefox OS really is in a position to destabilize the entire mobile market.