Mozilla is planning a Web-based mobile operating system, known as “Boot to Gecko” (or B2G), that could challenge other upstarts in the browser space such as Google’s Chrome operating system.
Specifically, Mozilla will market Boot to Gecko toward smartphones and tablets, and incorporate both Android and Mozilla’s Gecko browser layout engine as part of its foundation. The emphasis is on crafting an open-source environment, and B2G source code will be released in real time. (Considering the intellectual-property lawsuits currently filed against Android, Mozilla’s pledge to use as little of Android as possible could become a serious headache-saver.)
“Mozilla believes that the Web can displace proprietary, single-vendor stacks for application development,” Mozilla engineer Andreas Gal wrote in a July 25 blog posting. “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.”
Should Mozilla achieve its aims with B2G, it would open yet another competitive front in the mobile device space, which isn’t exactly lacking for bitter rivalries or fierce market-share battles. And as businesses more wholeheartedly embrace the mobile paradigm as a way to make their workers more productive, the inevitable question arises about how this could affect Mozilla’s uptake among the enterprise and SMBs.
In the business environment, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer continues to hold a dominant position despite a steady crumbling in market share over the past several quarters.
“Here on the IE team, we highly value our corporate customers,” Roger Capriotti, director of Internet Explorer’s marketing, wrote in a July 27 posting on The Windows Blog. “Our commitment to these commercial customers is evident in the features that Internet Explorer has to help IT departments plan, deploy, and manage a browser across the enterprise.”
Microsoft also plans to make Internet Explorer a substantial component in its mobile strategy, with IE9 due to find its way into the company’s upcoming Windows Phone “Mango” software update. Presumably, a future version of IE will serve as a core element within the Windows 8 tablets reportedly due to hit the market sometime in late 2012. As demonstrated by Mango, Microsoft perceives Internet Explorer as less a browser and more a deeply baked element within the user interface, something that (along with its Bing search engine) acts as a sort of gateway to a wide variety of functionality.
Even before Mozilla’s B2G announcement, the organization and Microsoft were already butting heads over the business audience. Mozilla is renewing its enterprise focus after some controversy in June, when its release of Firefox 5 worried companies still figuring out how to adopt Firefox 4, released a mere three months before.
“Enterprise has never been (and I’ll argue, shouldn’t be) a focus of ours,” Asa Dotzler, community coordinator for various Mozilla projects, wrote in the comments section of Firefox developer Michael Kaply’s personal blog. “Until we run out of people who don’t have sysadmins and enterprise deployment teams looking out for them, I can’t imagine why we’d focus at all on the kinds of environments you care so much about.”
Enterprise IT pros reacted badly to that, which in turn forced other Mozilla executives to assert that, yes, they did care about business needs.
“We are re-establishing a Mozilla Enterprise User Working Group as a place for enterprise developers, IT staff and Firefox developers to discuss the challenges, ideas and best practices for deploying Firefox in the enterprise,” read a July 19 blog post on The Mozilla Blog. “The group will have conversations on the discussion list and during in-person meetings as well as during monthly phone meetings.”
Analytics firm Net Applications currently estimates Firefox’s overall share of the browser market at 21.71 percent, trailing the Internet Explorer franchise at 54.27 percent but ahead of Google Chrome at 12.52 percent and Safari at 7.28 percent. Moreover, Firefox’s share has stagnated in recent months, with its last high of 22.97 percent in September 2010, while upstart rivals have made more significant gains.
Hence the need for Mozilla to look to other avenues, such as the in-development B2G, as a way to assert its brand within a highly competitive space-a move seemingly tailored to challenge Google, but which nonetheless could exacerbate competition with Microsoft. All these companies want the biggest piece possible of the mobile space, and it’s becoming clear they’ll devote massive amounts of resources to get it.