August 29, 2013, 6:12 AM — As Microsoft's Windows Phone flails and BlackBerry 10 sputters, the smartphone market seems increasingly a two-horse town: Google's Android and Apple's iOS. But the open source world is hoping to provide a simpler option to reach the mass market, especially in poorer nations where high-end mobile platforms are out of most people's reach.
There's Nokia's Asha platform, but its OS is proprietary. Plenty of very low-cost Android phones are also available, but Android is not open source, as there is no community development aspect to the freely available software. Linux stalwart Canonical is working on its truly open source Ubuntu Touch, but it's still in beta. If you want an inexpensive open source smartphone today, your only choice is the ZTE Open, based on Mozilla's Firefox OS.
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Firefox OS's user interface is very much like that of iOS. The app screen works the same way, and there's a dock for frequently used apps. Even deleting apps works like in iOS: Tap and hold an app's icon and the X-in-a-circle indicator appears so that you can delete unwanted apps. The Home button closes apps and opens the app screen. You'll also see the iOS-like scrollwheel interface for picking dates and time. (Interestingly enough, the browser's Top Sites feature is like Mac Safari's -- clearly, the folks at Mozilla took their UI cues from Apple.) Firefox OS should be familiar to anyone who's used an iPhone but can't afford one or refuses to go proprietary.