Talking about one of those supposedly “silver bullet” enteprise IT products my current boss once said, “I really wanted to believe the Power Point!” That’s as a good a segue into this article as I can think of.
There are some technologies, some vendors, who a lot of us really (really, really) want to see succeed.
Mozilla is one of them. Specifically their flagship Firefox web browser.
All the excited anticipation of Firefox OS is pretty much running on that kind of thing right now.
But there comes a time when fantasy has to give way to reality.
For me the first real letdown was getting a good look at Firefox OS in the developer’s emulator browser add-on. It wasn’t actually the look and feel of the thing. I’ve been working with emulated, virtual, systems long enough to allow for a lot of roughness and performance issues in that kind of environment.
Notice also that I’m not complaining about the as yet unrealized rock-bottom prices for devices. We’re way too early in the game for that kind of thing, and everyone should realize that.
No, for me it was the lack of apps that could let me do something, anything, useful with the thing. I need an standards based (IMAP) e-mail app, a calendar that can work both off the cloud and the local network (Google Calendar or Microsoft Exchange integration, even if available, isn’t going to cut it), and, as I’ve said so many times before, a first rate maps and navigation system. Without that last a smartphone for me isn’t much more than a paperweight that makes annoying noises.
The other big disappointment I’ve had recently — well, actually kind of a running disappointment over the last few months that finally reached the point of total surrender — is with Firefox for Android. In a word, it sucks. Not just in the usual ways, winking out into oblivion at the worst possible times or slowing to a crawl for no apparent reason. No, my main problem with it across a few different Android phones over the last year is in how it handles, or fails to handle, the display adjustments necessary when the soft keyboard pops up or the things go from portrait to landscape. Inevitably the display either gets cut off around half-way down or goes completely unreadable. It’s almost as if the thing is being developed on a 7 inch tablet.
Anyway, although I’m a great believer in free and open source software, and need an alternative to Google’s built in browser, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Firefox is definitely not going to work out. So for now I’ve switched back to Dolphin as the best alternative to the built in browser, although I’m not entirely happy about it. None of Dolphin’s competitors could touch it on performance (it’s on par with the built-in browser), and Dophin matches or exceeds all of them in usability. It is also by far the most stable product next to the built-in browser.
Although I can customize Dolphin to, for example, switch out the default Google search for the more privacy-friendly DuckDuckGo, not having the source code available for review by security experts is a definite minus for me. But at the same time Firefox has gotten to the point where its almost painful to use for common, day-to-day activities like filling out web based forms and watching media in landscape. So usability wins out over security.
I’m not really sure how Mozilla thinks they’re going to succeed with Firefox OS if the core of the system, the browser, has these kinds of problems on a known, stable, platform like Android. I’m sure they might be able to come up with excuses based on the eccentricities of certain hardware and carrier modifications to the underlying OS, factors that they presumably could control better on their own OS. But given the Google’s history with Android, I think it’s unlikely that Mozilla will be able to maintain any kind of real control over Firefox OS as it actually gets integrated into carrier hardware, leaving Mozilla with the same problems they already have on Android.
I really wanted to believe the Power Point on this one too, but the fact is that for all the hype Mozilla still hasn’t really delivered for me on mobile — and I’m not really sure they ever will. It takes more than wishful thinking and a big advertising budget to mount a software revolution. Something marketing types seem to need to be reminded of every once and awhile.