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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