Way back when the internet was young, there was a web browser called Netscape.

It was the first widely-used browser, and its code provided the basis for dozens of other browsers that followed after it.

Netscape also created offshoots of itself, and one of those became Firefox. Although by no means the most popular browser, Netscape has always commanded loyalty among users. It’s fast, reliable, and it does the job.

Now it’s also becoming a phone: no-one expected that.

Yet Firefox OS (mozilla.org/firefox/os) is a new operating system for smartphones, based entirely on open standards. It’s a reaction to the dominance of so-called “walled garden” systems like Apple’s iOS or Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

Why should that matter?

Because open standards mean the system is open to all. You don’t need any special software or hardware to create apps for Firefox OS. The data they create is saved in open formats, so it’s portable, and not tied to a particular device or system.

Mostly, a Firefox OS prototype looks like most other phones. You tap on a circular icon to open an app; it has a little search box at the top of the screen, and there’s a shop for getting more apps, the Firefox Marketplace.

Using open standards also means the whole thing costs less, and can be sold for less too. As such, Firefox phones – if and when they ever make it into the shops, and let’s hope they do – should be a lot cheaper than their better-known rivals.

Of course they might not offer as much in the way of apps and services, but if all you want is the basics, maybe the Firefox phone is just what you need.