Mozilla on Boot to Gecko: 'The web always wins'

Jason Ankenyeditor's corner

BARCELONA, Spain--Mozilla is giving Mobile World Congress 2012 the Boot. Seven months after the open-source software initiative first announced its intention to take on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android by developing Boot to Gecko, its own open web-based mobile operating system, Mozilla kicked off this year's Mobile World Congress event by naming Telefónica as the first operator to officially pledge support for the fledgling OS. Telefónica and Mozilla will jointly launch the Open Web Devices platform and corresponding smartphones later in 2012, promising a new phone architecture that relies entirely on the web to enable HTML5 applications with complete access to core device APIs. The firms state that all device capabilities including calling, messaging, browsing and gaming can be developed as HTML5 applications and executed via experiences based on Mozilla's Firefox browser.

Telefónica and Mozilla will develop OWD devices on a hardware platform based on Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) chipsets, vowing to deliver smartphone capabilities at entry-level feature phone pricing. According to Telefónica, its R&D team first began working on the OWD concept at the beginning of 2011, completing work on a prototype to show to potential partners; after Mozilla announced the Boot to Gecko initiative at mid-year, the companies began working together. "We looked for partners in terms of carriers and manufacturers," Mozilla senior director of Firefox engineering Johnathan Nightingale told FierceDeveloper. "We wanted to make sure we fully understood the challenges facing the mobile space." 

One major challenge facing developers: Finding the time and energy to build apps for yet another mobile platform beyond Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. But Nightingale said that adding Boot to Gecko to their workload doesn't really impact that workload at all. "Developers are already building on HTML5--they're just putting it in a WebKit wrapper," he explained. "We're getting rid of the middle layer."

With Boot to Gecko smartphones coming soon, Mozilla is now accepting developer submissions for its forthcoming Mozilla Marketplace app storefront, targeting a consumer launch sometime later this year. Mozilla Marketplace enables developers to create, distribute and monetize cross-platform applications optimized for any HTML5-enabled device, regardless of operating system. Mozilla Marketplace is part of the Mozilla Web Apps platform, which includes new Mozilla-proposed web APIs that will be submitted to the W3C for standardization as well as a new digital identity system that gives users control over their content by tying apps to the consumer instead of the device or platform.

Boot to Gecko and Mozilla Marketplace may herald significant leaps in Mozilla's evolution, but Nightingale said that both efforts represent a continuation of the organization's core mission: Leveraging the web to liberate consumers and developers from the constraints enforced by walled gardens. "The web is going to win again," Nightingale said. "The web always wins."--Jason