News Analysis: Mozilla is planning to launch an open-source operating system that will work on phones and tablets. But this initiative seems like a bad idea for many reasons. Does the market really need another mobile OS?
Mozilla announced July 25 that it wants to develop an open-source operating system
designed for smartphones and tablets. The project, known for now as "Boot to Gecko,"
will focus its efforts on developing a "complete, standalone operating system for the open Web." Perhaps most importantly, Mozilla will release the source code for the platform in "real time," rather than sticking to the delays that Google employs with its Android operating system.
For now, Boot to Gecko is very much in its infancy and several issues need to be worked out before it can even become a worthwhile concept. But it's not too early to predict the platform's chances of success.
As nice as it sounds on paper and as exciting as it might be for the open-source community, the chances of Mozilla's operating system becoming a success seem awfully slim.
Here are the reasons why Mozilla's Boot to Gecko idea, while quite intriguing, won't have a future in the mobile marketplace.
1. We already have Android
There is obviously significant value in delivering open-source solutions to any market. But whether the mobile space needs two such platforms is debatable. Mozilla is indicating that its project will be a bit better than Android, since it will share source code with developers in real-time, rather than after a product is ready to go, the way Google does. But considering the popularity of Android and the support it's receiving from vendor partners, how will Mozilla attempt to break into the space? It will be extremely difficult, for sure.
2. Patent issues
Right now, the mobile space is being overrun with patent claims related to the Android operating system
. According to Mozilla, it will be using "as little of Android as possible" to get its platform to run on mobile devices. At this point, the organization only plans to use a very small bit of code from lower levels of the stack to do so. But that might be enough to drag Mozilla and its vendor partners into this ongoing litigation. And that alone could derail its platform before it even gets going.
3. Time is against it
If Mozilla wants to enjoy any semblance of success in today's mobile market, the organization it will need to get going on delivering its operating system. Android's grip on the mobile space is tightening and with Nokia now working with Microsoft
, the market is changing dramatically. If Mozilla takes too long to get its platform to smartphones and tablets, it could be cornered out of the market before it even gets started.
4. Consumer confusion could be an issue
When one considers Mozilla's plans for Boot to Gecko, the organization talks extensively about proprietary technologies, its issues with single-vendor stacks, and much more. Although developers understand where it's going, the average consumer doesn't. If Mozilla can't make a compelling sales argument for its platform, consumers will go with the operating systems they understand from Google and Apple.
5. Is Mozilla trying to do too much?
Mozilla's decision to develop a standalone operating system seems like overkill, based on what it's trying to accomplish. Mozilla waxes poetic about its issues with current Web standards related to app development and its desire to change that. But is developing a full operating system really necessary to achieve that goal? It would seem that the organization could achieve its goal more effectively by developing a new Web app runtime. And if it did that, its chances of succeeding at its stated goals would be much higher. Hey, it's just a suggestion.