In Their Own Words: The Four Dark Horses for the Third Major Mobile OS Speak

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There is little doubt that the two leading mobile operating systems (OS) will continue to be Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. What still is very much up for grabs, however, is which mobile OS will grab the third spot.

This is a vital question. Not only will the third player win a healthy slice of market share, it will play a key role in the tactical and strategic technical and marketplace battles between the two leaders.

Most observers say that the leading candidates for this vital third spot are BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Windows Phone. However, there are several other candidates that shouldn’t be dismissed. They include Tizen, the mobile versions of Ubuntu, Jolla Mobile’s Sailfish and Mozilla’s Firefox OS.

IT Business Edge, in order to provide deeper background on these four lesser-known candidates, has put together a virtual roundtable, which will be posted in two parts. The following are answers to the first two questions. The responses were edited for clarity and length. Mozilla did not provide the name of a spokesperson.

IT Business Edge: What are the backstory and antecedents of your mobile operating system?

Brian Warner, Tizen operations manager, The Linux Foundation: Tizen is a combination of a variety of open source components, which is what you find with any open source operating system. It is not a direct descendent of any particular project, but it certainly has been heavily influenced by other efforts. Some of the structure and code is derived from SLP, a Linux-based reference platform originally created by Samsung. In addition, a number of components (Connman and oFono, to name a few) are projects that are maintained by Intel, and there are design influences from MeeGo. When preparing the codebase for the initial release of Tizen, the project members incorporated what they considered to be the best design decisions and components from these other projects.

Stefano Mosconi, chief technology officer of Jolla: Sailfish builds on top of the legacy of an open source project called MeeGo, on which active development was discontinued in 2010. MeeGo code was then inherited by the Mer project that is the core in Sailfish OS. Once developed to commercial products and use, the Sailfish OS stack will include both closed and open source components. The open source parts of Sailfish will remain there, and we are committed to upstream as much as we can. We believe that open source is the real vehicle for innovation and the whole world will benefit of it.

Richard Collins, product manager at Canonical: Ubuntu Linux was already established as an enterprise server platform in 2004. At that time, free software was not yet a part of everyday life for most computer users. That's why Mark Shuttleworth gathered a small team of developers from one of the most established Linux projects – Debian  – and set out to create an easy-to-use Linux desktop: Ubuntu.

The vision for Ubuntu is part social and part economic: Free software, available free of charge to everybody on the same terms, and funded through a portfolio of services provided by Canonical.

Canonical and the Ubuntu community have established Ubuntu's place in desktop, server and cloud deployments. We have also invested in the design and engineering of the Unity interface, motivated by the belief that the desktop interfaces would merge with mobile, touch interfaces into a seamless personal computing platform in the future. Unity's core elements are arranged in exactly the way we need to create coherence across a range of devices. This is why we've been able to develop a family of interfaces for Ubuntu, enabling it to power tablets, smartphones, desktops and TVs. 

Mozilla spokesperson: Mozilla’s mission is to promote innovation and opportunity on the Web, and increasingly, the Web is being accessed on mobile devices. The mobile landscape is fragmented, forcing consumers and developers to choose between proprietary ecosystems and stifling choice and control. Just as we opened up the desktop Web, Mozilla is seeking to open the mobile Web by advancing dozens of standards that will enable cross-platform advancements.

The introduction of Firefox OS continues this mission. Firefox OS is not designed to create a third platform. Instead, Mozilla wants the Web to be the third alternative to the closed walls of the Apple and Google stacks. We believe the Web is the platform. This is why the Firefox OS will be truly open and available to any network operators or OEM. We don’t seek a competitive advantage for Mozilla; we seek a competitive advantage for the Web.

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