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Firefox Marketplace hopes to compete with Google Chrome Web Store
Mozilla has been developing its own app store, Firefox Marketplace, which you’ll be able to access in future versions of the desktop (Windows, OS X, Linux) and Android versions of Firefox. You can browse through the store now, but you can’t install any of the apps -- unless you use Firefox Aurora for Android.
Visit Firefox Marketplace through Android
The current Aurora version of Firefox for Android has bleeding-edge features that may not be stable. It isn’t available from the Google Play store -- only through Mozilla’s site. And you can only install it on Android devices that permit you to “sideload” apps that are not authorized by Google. Once you have it installed on your Android device, and you launch it, open the browser’s settings menu, and tap Apps to launch Firefox Marketplace.
Register for a Mozilla Persona user account
In order to be able to install an app, you’ll need to sign in to Firefox Marketplace with your Mozilla Persona user account. If you don’t have an account, just register a new account. (A Mozilla Persona account also enables you to sync your Firefox browser’s bookmarks and settings across your computers and devices that have Firefox installed on them.) All the apps in Firefox Marketplace are free to install, but Mozilla plans to allow developers to sell their apps.
Firefox Marketplace apps install like normal apps
After you install an app from Firefox Marketplace, a launcher icon for the app is set on the home screen of Android, and in an app page in the browser. Apps from Firefox Marketplace are built on HTML5 and other open web technologies, so a Firefox app icon is essentially a shortcut, which will launch the Firefox browser engine and then go to a URL to load a web-based app.
Firefox app start-up time depends on wireless Internet reliability
We found that it could take up to several seconds for a Firefox app to launch and run, which appeared to depend on the reliability of our Android phone’s mobile Internet. If the phone’s 3G happened to be spotty, an app wouldn’t start up as quickly as it would if the signal were stronger. The code of the apps we installed didn’t appear to have been stored in the Aurora browser’s cache, so we couldn’t load and use them when we turned off the phone’s mobile Internet.
Prism, the predecessor to Firefox apps
Firefox apps appear to be based on the premise of Mozilla’s Prism, which is no longer being developed by them. It allowed you to install a web link as an application shortcut on your computer’s OS. Clicking such a shortcut would launch a stripped down version of Firefox (minus its standard GUI), which in turn would go to the URL and load the web-based app (or page) at the address. Chrome has a similar feature built into it.
Firefox Marketplace for the desktop versions of Firefox
When Firefox Marketplace is available for the desktop versions of Firefox, an app that you install will be launched as you would a typical desktop application. For example, under Windows 7 and older, a launch icon for an installed Firefox app will appear on the Windows desktop and under the Start menu. Mozilla is developing a future version of Firefox that would work with the Windows 8 app launcher UI, so Firefox Marketplace apps might be incorporated into the Windows 8 app ecosystem.
The connection to Firefox OS
Firefox Marketplace will also serve as a main feature of Firefox OS, Mozilla’s upcoming mobile OS that, at least initially, will be for smartphones. Firefox OS is based on the Firefox browser code base, and is being built entirely on HTML5 and other open web technologies.
An experiment that doesn’t meet a need for Android
As of this writing, the Firefox Marketplace has less than 300 apps -- the majority are games -- but, frankly, we’re hard-pressed to recommend any now as a must-install on your Android device. (Mozilla is openly accepting app submissions for Firefox Marketplace.) Many of them come off as technically simplistic and experimental. There are many more, and better apps you can get from Google Play. An example: Firefox Marketplace has an official Firefox app version of Twitter, but the official Twitter app for Android runs faster and is more feature-rich.
Up against Chrome’s app store
When Firefox Marketplace becomes available for the desktop versions of Firefox, the store’s offerings will also be inevitably compared to what you’ll find in Google’s app store. The selection and quality in Firefox Marketplace should improve over time if lots of developers create apps, or convert their web- or Chrome-based apps to Firefox Marketplace. But even then, it looks like Mozilla will have a steep hill to climb over Chrome Web Store.
It’s all about Firefox OS
The fate of Firefox Marketplace and Firefox apps appear to be dependent upon how competitive the desktop version of Firefox can remain against Chrome, and, additionally perhaps, how successfully Mozilla can incorporate the store and future versions of Firefox into the Windows 8 app ecosystem. On Android, Firefox Marketplace comes off as a proof-of-concept demo -- a plaything you can tinker with. Ultimately, Firefox Marketplace will not matter most to the Android or desktop platforms, but to Firefox OS. It gives further hints as to how Firefox will function as a mobile OS.
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