Firefox OS and Academic Programs

Although Mozilla feels almost like a household name at this point, it is a relatively small organization – tiny, actually – compared to the companies that ship similar types of software [1]. We must, however, have the impact of a much larger entity in order to ensure that the internet stays an open platform accessible to all.

Producing consumer software which influences the browser and smartphone OS markets in specific ways is how we make that impact. Shipping that software requires teams of people to design, build and test it, and all the countless other aspects of the release process. We can hire some of these people, but remember: we’re relatively tiny. We cannot compete with multi-billion-dollar mega-companies while operating in traditional ways. Mozilla has to be far more than the sum of its paid-employee parts in order to accomplish audaciously ambitious things.

Open source code and open communication allow participation and contribution from people that are not employees. And this is where opportunities lie for both Mozilla and universities.

For universities, undergraduates can earn credit, get real world experience, and ship software to hundreds of millions of people. Graduate researchers can break ground in areas where their findings can be applied to real world problems, and where they can see the impact of their work in the hands of people around the world. And students of any kind can participate before, during and after any involvement that is formally part of their school program.

For Mozilla, we receive contributions that help move our products and projects forward, often in areas that aren’t getting enough attention only because we don’t have the resources to do so. We get an influx of new ideas and new directions. We gain awesome contributors and can educate tomorrow’s technology workers about our mission.

I’ve been working with a few different programs recently to increase student involvement in the Firefox OS:

  • Portland State University:  The PSU CS Capstone program, run by Prof. Warren Harrison, has teams of students tackling projects for open source groups. The teams are responsible for all parts of the software life-cycle during the project. In the spring of 2013, a group of five students implemented an example messaging app using Persona and Firebase, documenting the challenges of Web platform development and the Firefox OS  development/debugging workflow. This year’s group will implement a feature inside Firefox OS itself.
  • Facebook Open Academy: This is a program coordinated by Stanford and Facebook, that puts teams from multiple universities together to build something proposed by an existing open source project. The Firefox OS team includes students from Carnegie-Mellon, Purdue, Harvard, Columbia in the US, and Tampere UT in Finland. They’re adding a new feature to Firefox OS which allows you to share apps directly between devices using NFC and Bluetooth. With 14 members across five universities, this team is collaborating via Github, Google Groups, IRC and weekly meetings for both the front-end and back-end parts, providing experience with remote working, group coordination and cross-team collaboration.
  • University of MichiganProf. Z. Morley Mao’s mobile research group has started looking at device and network performance in Firefox OS. They’ve got a stack of phones and SIM cards, and we’re working with them to find ways to improve battery life and network efficiency on our devices. They’ve started a collection of focus areas and related research on the Mozilla wiki.

If you’re at an academic institution and would like to learn more about how to get your department or your students involved, or if you’re a Mozillian who wants to coordinate a project with your alma mater, email me!


1. Mozilla has ~1000 employees. According to Wikipedia, Google has ~50,000 employees, Apple ~80,000 and Microsoft ~100,000.

4 Comments on “Firefox OS and Academic Programs”

  1. […] …OS and Academic Programs Posted: April 17, 2014 | Author: Dietrich Ayala | Filed under: firefox os … Firefox OSdevelopment/debugging workflow. This year’s group will implement a feature inside Firefox… Reading… […]

  2. Javier Rorwell says:

    great article, a question outside the topic, Why does Mozilla’s Gecko does not identify and use the Agent browsers data and use their own css idioms with a process transparent for the user?, in other words why a developer need to write another lines of CSS code just to make Gecko Layout Engine happy? for the Browser Sake, or for the Open Standards Sake! , Google and Safari in their Webkit the equivalent to Mozilla’s Layout Engine uses the same terms like some kind of standard to process their own style instructions, take this css code as example:

    input, textarea {
    -webkit-user-select: text;
    -ms-user-select: auto;
    -moz-user-select: text;

    you need to write -wekit-user-select for Safari and Chrome in Desktop & Android and iPhone for Mobile and -moz-user-select for Mozilla Browser and Firefox OS render mechanism and DOM manipulation, why not all use webkit name as convention? many pages do not render well in Mozilla’s Browser and often blame Ecma-Script about the DOM issues and this scenario, that can be easily prevented and reduce the fat of the css file, and the working process some browsers do to communicate with the agent and find out what css line use, and what should overwrite and repaint, css is a awful language, luckily some Ruby Fellows did some nice work with this Sass: Syntactically Awesome Style Sheets and you can create inheritance and extent in blocks of code and some mixins for inherit and re-use code, a good complement or extent to css capabilities. just a question, regards

  3. […] are just a few of the stories of community building though. There are many other blog posts to check out and even a video Dia made about how contributors made the Web We Want video […]

  4. […] example, Dietrich Ayala has had great results bringing in many students to help work on long-term features on the Firefox OS roadmap. Their work is removed from the day-to-day of staff developers shipping the next release, so he […]

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