Mozilla announces plans for Chrome OS-style mobile operating system

Mozilla today announced an ambitious new project “to pursue the goal of building a complete, standalone operating system for the open web”, which they’re calling (for now, at least) Boot To Gecko, or B2G. The purpose of the initiative is to develop a mobile OS, seemingly inspired by Google’s Chrome OS, where developers can easily build web apps, and in particular those built in HTML5, that are “in every way” as good as native iPhone, Android and WP7 apps.

Inspiration, it turns out, isn’t all that Boot To Gecko draws from Google; at its core, and at a very low level, B2G will be based on Android, although Mozilla’s vice president of technical strategy, Mike Shaver, explained that B2G would “use as little of Android as possible”. The implication appears to be that it will simply use the Android kernel and its driver base to boot B2G handsets; however, with a clear project focus on facilitating the simple creation and deployment of web apps that are as good as, or better than, existing native apps, it’s unlikely that there’ll be any direct compatibility with Android apps on B2G devices.

Mozilla’s Andreas Gal explained in a forum discussion that the company will be working with developers to create a wide range of web APIs to exploit hardware and software capabilities (including those for telephony, messaging, camera and communications such as USB, NFC and Bluetooth), with the ultimate aim of “breaking the stranglehold of proprietary technologies over the mobile device world”.

The hallmark of this project, as with other Mozilla initiatives, will be its open-source nature; as Gal points out, the goal isn’t “to have these native-grade apps just run on Firefox, we’re trying to have them run on the web”. All development work will ultimately be subject to review by the appropriate standards organisations, in the pursuit of maximising interoperability of web applications across multiple platforms; for a developer, this would represent something of a ‘holy grail’ of being able to design an app in one place, capable of running on any HTML5-compatible device without alteration.

Boot To Gecko is certainly an interesting concept, but while developer support may well be strong, the success of the initiative will be limited without manufacturer or big-brand support to turn it into a saleable product that exists outside of the ‘lab’ developer environment. This is just the beginning of the B2G story, though, as Mozilla itself concedes that the project is still in its infancy, but the reason that they’ve chosen to announce it now is so that they can seek feedback and input from the developer community on how best to shape the process of creating the new OS in the months ahead.  

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17 Comments

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Why would they use Android and risk all the patent infringements that come with it, when a vanilla Linux kernel is a free and open-source alternative that doesn't carry the same legal risks?

xpxp2002 said,
Why would they use Android and risk all the patent infringements that come with it, when a vanilla Linux kernel is a free and open-source alternative that doesn't carry the same legal risks?

The article says Android kernel. Not Android OS. The Android kernel is not the source of the numerous stupid patent lawsuits. Its the the what built on top of said kernel that's causing all the problems.

n_K said,
Oh for fu... *hangs head in hands*. STOP COPYING CHROME AND GET YOUR OWN GOD DAMN IDEAS

Copying Chrome!?! Google copied mozilla and put out a web browser

n_K said,
Oh for fu... *hangs head in hands*. STOP COPYING CHROME AND GET YOUR OWN GOD DAMN IDEAS

I take it you don't like competition, do you?

This seems like a terrible idea. HTML5 development is lacking several advantages of developing native applications. First of all in my opinion is that HTML5 is of course interpreted by a browser engine which means two things: Its not going to be as fast as a native app and its not going to work the same everywhere. Which leads to my next point; Why are companies trying to push web applications in HTML5 as a standard when they haven't even finished HTML5 (and even admit that they plan to NEVER finish it) and no browser implements all of HTML5 in its current entirety (The Acid test is just a subset if I'm not mistaken). Writing web pages that work most of the time, but not all the time, is just a way of life and people accept it for the internet. Nobody is going to be happy when their phone apps don't work (especially after paying for them). There are certainly some advantages to web programming, but I just don't think they are good enough for the mobile environment yet.

Good grief - as Yowan hints, what we don't need is yet another incompatible mobile OS. He could have mentioned Palm OS and Blackberry's OS as well!

HOWEVER, what we really DO need is a standards-based way of making apps that run on all phones. Mozilla will win instant developer friends for that approach, methinks, and the next thing we need will be for all the others to follow suit. I can see this going the same way as the desktop browser wars, with competing platforms eventually coming nearer and nearer to a common standard. The difference this time round is that rather than Microsoft being the laggard, I suspect they will be one of the first. After all, their thinking with Windows 8 is already along those lines.

Timble said,

HOWEVER, what we really DO need is a standards-based way of making apps that run on all phones.

Yes, that would be really nice to have and it would be easier too (in some respects)... but I personally don't see Apple allowing that to happen... I mean, they even blocked (or something like that) Adobe from being able to create iOS apps from Flash...

As well, I see it a bit hard to develop an app that runs on multiple OSes, like iOS, Android, WP7, and the like... Each phone has different hardware and such... like Android phones have like 4 buttons (Home, Search, Back... and something else) while iOS has only one button: the Home button. I think that will make it a bit hard...

JaykeBird said,

Yes, that would be really nice to have and it would be easier too (in some respects)... but I personally don't see Apple allowing that to happen... I mean, they even blocked (or something like that) Adobe from being able to create iOS apps from Flash...

Maybe ... maybe not. It's hard to tell. Yes, Apple might end up being the exception as they so often are. Of course Flash is a proprietary technology not an open standard, so you could argue that this is different. But Apple may still not give up their app empire that easily. I predict 10 years from now there will be two platforms for phones like for computers: Apple's closed system and the standards-based system for everyone else. But creating two apps is better than needing to make six.

JaykeBird said,

As well, I see it a bit hard to develop an app that runs on multiple OSes, like iOS, Android, WP7, and the like... Each phone has different hardware and such... like Android phones have like 4 buttons (Home, Search, Back... and something else) while iOS has only one button: the Home button. I think that will make it a bit hard...

You're absolutely right. But phones are more similar than different. In the PC world, drivers allow the same Windows to run on millions of different hardware combinations without developers having to worry about the details of each piece of hardware. They just write code that checks for feature availability and acts accordingly; Windows and the drivers do the rest. The same is quite possible with phones and HTML/CSS/Javascript. Apps will just have to include statements like "if hardware search button exists, map it to this action; if not, create this software button...". Much, much better to code for supported features than for named devices anyway.

I shall be watching this development (and Windows 8) with much interest.

Timble said,
HOWEVER, what we really DO need is a standards-based way of making apps that run on all phones. Mozilla will win instant developer friends for that approach, methinks, and the next thing we need will be for all the others to follow suit. I can see this going the same way as the desktop browser wars, with competing platforms eventually coming nearer and nearer to a common standard. The difference this time round is that rather than Microsoft being the laggard, I suspect they will be one of the first. After all, their thinking with Windows 8 is already along those lines.

We already have a standards-based way of making apps that run on all phones. It's called HTML, and it's designed exactly for creating stuff that runs on multiple platforms. The problem is that it's slow, and as a result, instead of having any-OS web apps, we have iPhone apps, and Android apps, and Blackberry apps, and WebOS apps, and WP7 apps.

Besides, cross-platform development isn't as profitable for the likes of Microsoft or Apple, so why would they even dedicate time to it.

"in particular those built in HTML5, that are “in every way” as good as native iPhone, Android and WP7 apps."
I take it the people at Mozilla haven't used a lot of apps at all on their smartphones if they have any.
I am not saying mobile websites or HTML 5 (and most likely some javascript or PHP ) are simply bad, but "in every way" as good as native apps? Eh, nope...

Dead'Soul said,

article and me think its a desktop OS


Laptops and netbooks more like it, it does say "mobile OS" in the article.

Dead'Soul said,

article and me think its a desktop OS

It sounds a bit more like a mobile OS to me... The article mentions handsets... (things like phones or maybe tablets...)

"The implication appears to be that it will simply use the Android kernel and its driver base to boot B2G handsets;"

JaykeBird said,

It sounds a bit more like a mobile OS to me... The article mentions handsets... (things like phones or maybe tablets...)

"The implication appears to be that it will simply use the Android kernel and its driver base to boot B2G handsets;"

i mean its an x86 os, not phone os, sorry