Mozilla has begun work on a mobile operating system for smartphones and tablets based on the free open-source Gecko engine for HTML layout used in many applications created by the organization's developer community. The goal is to displace today's proprietary, single-vendor stacks for mobile-app development with an open mobile OS called Boot to Gecko (B2G).
Though Mozilla's developers continue to work on Google's Android, they see the need for an alternative because Google's mobile platform has APIs based on a "proprietary Google sauce" rather than freely available web standards.
"Android used to be at least 'available source' where Google would publish internally developed source code/technology after the fact as products ship, but even those times seem to be over now," noted Mozilla researcher Andreas Gal. "I would love to boot my custom Android build on my Galaxy Tab 10-inch, but no luck. Google refuses to release the source code."
Building Native-Grade Apps
To reduce friction for consumers to own and productively use multiple devices, as much of the device data, content, configuration and personalization as possible needs to be moved to the cloud, noted Al Hilwa, director of applications development software at IDC.
"This is the value proposition of Google Chrome OS and now this initiative from Mozilla," Hilwa explained. "It is also what Apple and Microsoft will drive going forward, Apple with iCloud and its family of devices, and Microsoft with Windows 8, Windows Phone, and Xbox over the next couple of years."
Mozilla wants to identify the gaps that currently prevent web developers from being able to build mobile apps "that are -- in every way -- the equals of native apps built for the iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone 7," Gal wrote. "We want expertise from all over Mozilla -- and from people who aren't yet part of Mozilla -- to inform and build the project."
The B2G effort will begin by targeting the latest Android-based smartphones equipped with Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 processors, which provide hardware acceleration for open audio/video formats. To make B2G work, however, Mozilla developers will also need to build prototype APIs for a wide range of mobile functions -- such as telephony, SMS, camera, USB, Bluetooth and NFC.
"I am very interested in making a beefed-up web stack with powerful local APIs available to users of existing devices," Gal wrote. "I think we can do this without distracting from the ultimate goal: Breaking the stranglehold of proprietary technologies over the mobile-device world."
Setting New Standards
Mozilla developers intend to use as little of Android as possible when building the user interface and other components of B2G, other than the kernel, drivers and a few other items.
"It's not likely that we'll use the Android Java-wrapped graphics APIs, for example," noted Mozilla Chief Evangelist Mike Shaver. "It's nice to start from something that's known to boot and have access to all the devices we want to expose."
What's more, Mozilla intends to conduct all its B2G development in the open and 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," Gal wrote.
Having machines that purely rely on the cloud is definitely in our future but will take a few years to mature, Hilwa observed. "Mozilla is on the right track with this, though initially it is going to be a challenge because there will be multiple competing platforms with varying degrees of cloud dependency duking this out," he said.
Posted: 2011-07-26 @ 4:18pm PT
Good article. Just want to point out to the previous comment - your 'sensitive' data is and has always been available to anyone with the right legal warrant! Plus, most reputable cloud vendors specifically caution you about placing your sensitive data into the cloud until you are confident about your OWN security protocols. PS - love the typo "proprietary Google SAUCE"! Very appropriate!
Posted: 2011-07-26 @ 2:02pm PT
why this cloud-dependency? can't you just backup my data and settings to a memory card?
I have stayed away from the smartphone frenzy because I like to own my device and my data and decide who has access to it. Unless I own my little cloud, I will not transfer sensitive data to it.