Mozilla Building Mobile Operating System to Rival Google's Chrome OS

Mozilla has announced Boot to Gecko (B2G), a new operating system project to deliver an open Web-based OS for smartphones and tablets, similar to the idea behind the netbook-focused Chrome OS.

Mozilla has begun work on a new Web-based mobile operating system that will rival the efforts Google has taken with its Chrome OS, except the Mozilla operating system will target smartphones and tablets as opposed to netbooks.

The new Mozilla project is known as Boot to Gecko, or B2G, and its goal is to build a complete, stand-alone operating system for the open Web, said Mozilla engineer Andreas Gal in a July 25 blog post. Gecko is Mozilla's browser layout engine. It appears that Mozilla will begin building out B2G with Android components and Gecko as foundational technologies.

However, as the team is pledging to work in a totally open-source environment, it is enlisting help and suggestions from developers in the community. And the B2G effort will require work in several areas, including building new APIs for exposing device and OS capabilities to contend in areas such as telephony, SMS, camera, USB, Bluetooth, Near Field Communications (NFC) and so on. Developers must also choose and port or build apps to prove out and prioritize the power of the system, prototype a low-level substrate for an Android-compatible device, and establish a privilege model to ensure that these new capabilities are safely exposed to pages and applications.

Gal said Mozilla needs to take "a hill," or win an early battle, as leverage to fight on with the B2G project, which will likely take years to complete. Google took at least two years to bring Chrome OS to fruition.

Essentially, Mozilla's goal is to "find the gaps that keep Web developers from being able to build apps that are-in every way-the equals of native apps built for the iPhone, Android and WP7 [Windows Phone 7]," Gal said.

"Mozilla believes that the Web can displace proprietary, single-vendor stacks for application development," Gal said. "To make open Web technologies a better basis for future applications on mobile and desktop alike, we need to keep pushing the envelope of the Web to include-and in places exceed-the capabilities of the competing stacks in question."

In true open-source tradition, Mozilla plans to release the B2G source code in real time and to take all successful additions to appropriate standards groups, Gal said. "We aren't trying to have these native-grade apps just run on Firefox; we're trying to have them run on the Web," he added.

The B2G post drew an extensive comments thread, many of which came from Mozilla engineers responding to queries and further explaining the project.

However, one commenter, identified as Nick Dafo, asked, Why build a new operating system in the first place? Dafo wrote:

""As a huge Android supporter I don't see why you find the need to do this. Android is already a great mobile O.S. that is open source. ... If Mozilla wants to support open source and the web in mobile devices you should better work as much as possible on the Android version of Firefox instead of trying to create a whole new OS. There is no need for another OS if you can build a great Firefox app for an existing open source O.S. that is already out on the market and growing faster than the closed systems like Apple's and Microsoft's.""

Gal responded:

""Android is not open source in the sense of -open technology.' Android APIs are proprietary Google sauce, not broadly accepted and adopted open web standards. At some point Android used to be at least -available source' where Google would publish secretly/internally developed source code/technology after the fact as products ship, but even those times seem to be over now. I would love to boot my custom Android build on my Galaxy Tab 10, but no luck, Google refuses to release the source."We want to do Boot to Gecko the way we think open source should be done. In the open, from day 1, for everyone to see and participate.""

Responding to queries about potential desktop targeting, Mozilla's Mike Shaver said: "We might prototype some stuff on a PC, but the project is really about the device space. We had to pick somewhere, and this seems like where the energy is best spent. Desktop devices tend to be harder to get good open drivers for without pulling in things like X, which we don't want to do."