Firefox OS is billed as an alternative to Android or iOS. Photo: AFP
Mozilla, which campaigns for open development of the online world, showed off the first commercial version of the Firefox OS on the eve of the opening of the world's biggest mobile fair in Barcelona, Spain.
Smartphones equipped with Firefox OS look familiar to those on other systems, with an array of apps, or application programmes, to be made available on an online store, and a mapping programme developed by Nokia.
"With the support of our vibrant community and dedicated partners, our goal is to level the playing field and usher in an explosion of content and services that will meet the diverse needs of the next two billion people online," said Mozilla chief executive Gary Kovacs.
Mozilla, which aims to take third place behind Android and iOS, said it had already lured 17 operators including Sprint, China Unicom, KDDI, Singtel,Telefonica, Telenor and Deutsche Telecom.
The foundation said it was working with handset manufacturers South Korea's LG and China's TCL and ZTE on Firefox OS-run devices, with China's Huawei to follow later in the year.
All the smartphones would be run with Qualcomm Snapdragon application processors, which use an architecture licenced by Cambridge, England-based ARM.
They will be available from the northern hemisphere summer, with the first devices arriving in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela. Other markets are to be announced soon, Mozilla said.
Google and Apple's operating systems combined now control more than 90 percent of the smartphone market.
Google's Android ran 69 percent of all handsets sold last year and Apple's iOS 22 percent, said a study by independent analytical house Canalys.
Analysts say the two leaders will still dominate the market in 2013 although there could be room for a third player.
There are several operating systems vying for that number-three spot, however, including Microsoft's Windows Phone, Blackberry, Firefox and Samsung's open-source project Tizen.
Blackberry, formerly RIM, announced last month its BB10 operating system as it sought to regain its glory days with a new smartphone, the Blackberry Z10.
RIM had tried to escape its niche business market several years ago but could not resist the iPhone, said research house booz&co analyst Mohssen Toumi, who gave the firm little chance of success now, either.
"Windows Phone has a real chance via the business market because it is made for work as much as for leisure," he said.
Operators, too, are keen to break the operating system duopoly of Apple and Google, said Ian Fogg, senior mobile analyst at research house IHS.
Some Asian handset makers such as China's Huawei and ZTE or global group's like Spain's Telefonica could be interested in using Firefox OS to bring out products for developing countries, said Thomas Husson, analyst at Forrester Research.
But "for a third ecosystem to really hatch, you need to have partnerships with all the players, and the operators alone are not enough. You also need the manufacturers and all the third-parties: developers, brands, content suppliers, and media," he added.
The support of app developers was the most important and toughest to obtain.
"Developers, which are often small operations, will not want to spend their time developing and supporting applications on several platforms," said Toumi, especially if one of them has only a small share of the market.