By Jared Newman | Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm
Mozilla, the company behind Firefox, has announced plans to get into the mobile operating system game with a project called “Boot to Gecko.”
The goal is to create a web-based operating system that includes all the core functions of a smartphone, including phone calls, text messages and photos. For now, Mozilla plans to build the OS from a low-level chunk of Android, but apps that run on the phone would ultimately be available in any web browser.
In typical Mozilla fashion, the company is laying out its intentions even as the project is in its rudimentary stages.
“We will do this work in the open, we will release the source in real-time, we will take all successful additions to an appropriate standards group, and we will track changes that come out of that process,” Mozilla wrote on its Boot to Gecko wiki. “We aren’t trying to have these native-grade apps just run on Firefox, we’re trying to have them run on the web.”
The effort stands in contrast to Google’s Chrome OS for a couple reasons: First, Mozilla is initially focusing on smartphones, with the ultimate goal of displacing native apps on both mobile and desktop devices, whereas Chrome OS launched on notebooks and may eventually expand to desktops and tablets. Second, Mozilla clearly states that it wants the apps coming out of this project to be compatible with all browsers, whereas the Chrome Web Store is unique to Google’s web browser, and not all apps work in other browsers.
Mozilla may be onto something here. Web apps are nice in theory, because they don’t lock the user into any particular platform, but right now it’s in the interest of Apple, Google and Microsoft to their own create ecosystems of native mobile apps instead. Mozilla has little to lose by building a system of apps that can be accessed from any browser.
It’s a lofty goal, and building a mobile OS brings other headaches, like partnerships with hardware vendors and wireless carriers. We’re obviously a long, long way from seeing a finished product out of Boot to Gecko, but I’m interested to see where it goes.