The Chinese Firefox OS fork is all about control

Last week the news broke that Acadine Technologies, a Hong Kong start-up led and peopled by mostly ex-Mozillians, raised venture capital to create H5OS, a Firefox OS fork. I believe the political motivations behind this move have been underreported.

Since this project has something to do with Mozilla everybody is required to pay lip service to the usual HTML5 openness blah and be starry-eyed and forget reality. The crown for most bullshitty statement goes to Acadine CEO and former Mozilla president Li Gong:

Firefox OS, for which project I was the owner and primary driver in my last job, has definitely broken fresh ground in mobile operating systems and has demonstrated the viability of a new Web-centric approach in a field dominated by Android and iOS devices

Firefox OS has demonstrated nothing of the sort. It has only demonstrated how Mozilla wasted its credit by creating a cloud of openness blah to seduce web developers into believing an operating system without any strategic market plan or forethought can become relevant.

However, since the Chinese deal is entirely about power and not about openness, it may be the first time something Firefox OS-ish will be actually successful. HTML5 openness saved by the Chinese state. Hurray!

The Tsinghua Unigroup gave Acadine Technologies 100 million dollars to develop H5OS. This group, it was reported earlier in the context of a take-over of a US microchip manufacturer, is controlled by the Chinese state and funded by the Tsinghua University in Beijing, which counts president Xi Jinping among its alumni. Also:

China has attached strategic importance to the development of domestic semiconductor, server and networking equipment industries amid fears of foreign cyberspying.

A Quartz article continues in the same vein:

Tsinghua’s investment in Arcadine points to another one of the Chinese government’s obsessions—developing a homegrown operating system.

Intermittently, over the past two years, reports have surfaced detailing the country’s efforts to develop a “Made in China” alternative to Android. But these efforts thus far have come to nothing: in China, the operating-system market is overwhelmingly dominated by Android and the runners-up are growing even less popular:

Translation from Chinese: the government is not pleased that Google and Apple own the data of its subjects citizens, and while several Chinese Android forks exist that don’t deliver data to Google (but, instead, one assumes, to the government), it’s even better to outright own the operating system. Much less hassle.

By the same token, H5OS could be massively successful. If the Chinese government simply orders the operators to start selling these phones that could put a serious dent in Android’s Chinese market share. So this story is definitely worth following — but from a political angle, without the HTML5 openness ideological blah.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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