Mozilla's Simpson warns of HTML5 fragmentation

Todd Simpson

Todd Simpson

Todd Simpson, chief of innovation at Mozilla

Last February Mozilla made headlines at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain with its announcement that it planned to develop a new open source HTML5-based mobile OS, called Firefox OS. The company garnered support for the effort from a number of operators globally as well as Qualcomm and a handful of device makers. Earlier this month, HTC announced it is collaborating with Mozilla to build smartphones based on Firefox OS--a move to diversify the Chinese manufacturer's device portfolio away from Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone.

FierceDeveloper Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek recently talked with Mozilla's Chief of Innovation Todd Simpson about the company's efforts around HTML5 as well as some of the possible challenges, such as fragmentation.

FierceDeveloper: At Mobile World Congress last February, Mozilla announced Boot to Gecko (now renamed Firefox OS), a new phone architecture that would rely entirely on the Web to enable HTML5 applications.  How is that effort progressing?

Todd Simpson: Since a lot of the Web is now being accessed from mobile devices, we are making a big push to keep the mobile Web as open and accessible as the desktop Web is and we are doing that through a number of different initiatives, including Firefox OS, formerly Boot to Gecko. We are focused on those three systems--Mobile Web, identity and Apps.  And we announced all three in Barcelona. 

FierceDeveloper: You have received support for Firefox OS from Telefonica and Sprint as well as others. How is that support helping this effort?

Simpson: There are some very vocal supporters like Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, Sprint and Telenor. Telefonica is the only one we are talking about timing to market and devices.  We have Qualcomm supporting us on the chipset side and ZTE and TCL on the OEM side. 

We are trying to get the first handset to market in early 2013 with Telefonica. We are working hard to push forward with that plan. It's a large complex effort.

FierceDeveloper: Do you see some of these other operating systems like Tizen (the open source operating system based upon Linux) as being competitive to what you are doing?

Simpson: It's competitive, but it's also pushing HTML5 too. As part of the ecosystem we want to make sure we don't fragment HTML5. We want to coordinate on some of the APIs. For example, we want to make sure that the APIs for telephony and accelerometer and others are standardized. The sooner we can standardize those and have multiple candidates adopt them the better it is for the whole HTML5 ecosystem.

FierceDeveloper: But how does that standardization occur? Intel has talked about needing leadership in this space.  Do you agree?

Simpson:  Yes, we need lots of leaders in this space at different layers. First of all, just getting HTML5 capabilities to be competitive with native capabilities is something everyone intuitively chips at. In terms of browsers we need leadership to get those standardized to open up capabilities and performance. And there's also a need for leadership on developer tools and evangelism. There is lots of room at different levels for leadership.

FierceDeveloper: What is necessary to get HTML5 to move ahead?  Do you need carrier and OEM support to elevate it to the next level?

Simpson: Because HTML5 is based upon open standards and open innovation and it is based upon an open stack, the rate of innovation should increase. I think we are at the point where we need to make the experience as good at native apps, and then the innovation engine should kick in.

FierceDeveloper: But is the fear of fragmentation hindering this?

Simpson: If you look at desktop Web, it has been very successful even though there are multiple players in there and our browsers are not identical. But the core functionality has settled down and Web developers are used to seeing that Chrome and Microsoft are pushing this, so maybe we need to make them into a standard. Majoring the fragmentation by the major vendors on the Web is a known process. What we don't want to do is increase the fragmentation by having multiple versions of Firefox OS. We are working hard to make sure that what we do on the desktop and what we do on Android remain consistent.

FierceDeveloper: Are you watching closely to what Microsoft is doing with Windows Phone 8? All the operators are saying that they want more choices in terms of operating systems for the smartphone, but at the same time there is doubt there.  

Simpson: I think we fundamentally believe that an open platform will eventually win. So we are not too worried about other platforms. We just want to make the Web platform really good. We have our hands full with that. And we can't impact what Microsoft is doing. We ask them to work with HTML5 open standards.

FierceDeveloper: You have talked about the importance of a strong developer community. How do you rally the developers around Firefox OS?

Simpson: We have been working with Web developers throughout our entire history. Our developer site is a major destination for developers. We don't worry about attracting developers as much as we do about making sure we get them the right tools for mobile. We can teach them, and we give them best practices for mobile.