Mozilla will showcase some of the first hardware devices based on that software at the Mobile World Congress, taking place in Barcelona this week. Among the brands that have signed on to make devices based on Firefox OS are South Korea's LG, China's ZTE, and Huawei.
Unlike Google and Apple's operating systems, which are built from proprietary technology, Firefox OS uses the HTML5 standard with which Web services are built. That means anyone familiar with Web programming can create Firefox OS apps.
Whether a smart phone built on Web standards can deliver the kind of performance that consumers expect remains to be seen. Facebook famously stopped using HTML5 to develop its iPhone app last year, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying the technology couldn't deliver acceptable quality and calling a decision to use HTML5 for its app one of Facebook's "biggest mistakes."
Mozilla, a nonprofit, also faces stiff competition. Google's Android software, which the company distributes free to phone vendors from Samsung to HTC, had roughly 70 percent share of the worldwide smartphone market in the fourth quarter, according to industry research firm Gartner. Apple, which created the smart phone market with the 2007 launch of the now-iconic iPhone, had a roughly 21 percent share of the market.