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The non-profit Mozilla Corporation, maker of the Firefox web browser, today said that it would issue a smartphone operating system platform as the Firefox OS. The platform has been known until now as the Open Web Devices (OWD) platform.

Like the Firefox browser, the Firefox OS will be completely open source and available at no charge to developers. ‘Free’ is a good price, but competing with Apple inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), Google inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT), and Research in Motion ltd. (NASDAQ: RIMM) for market share in smartphone operating systems is truly an uphill struggle. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android together control more than 80% of the smartphone OS market, with Android alone at about 50%. Like Firefox OS, Android is also free.

US wireless carrier Sprint Nextel inc. (NYSE: S) is among early supporters of the new platform, which the company plans to use to lower the cost of smartphones for entry-level devices. Firefox OS gives device makers access to the native hardware through the HTML5 standard. The other operating systems are in one way or another proprietary and insert a layer of software between the hardware and the operating system.

The first device to use the new platform is scheduled to launch in early 2013 in Brazil. The phone will be sold by Spain’s Telefonica under its Vivo brand.

Today’s announcement is really just a name change, but with device makers like China’s ZTE intending to manufacture devices using Firefox OS and processors from Qualcomm inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM), this is a development that bears watching primarily because it is looking at the low-end of the smartphone market.

Introducing the 24/7 Wall St. Wire

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