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.
Mozilla Could Have Trouble Winning Vendor Support
6. There’s no concrete plan
If one digs into what Mozilla has said about its Boot to Gecko program so far, they will quickly find that the organization doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do and how to get there. In a post announcing the project, the organization said that “some pieces of it are only captured in our heads today, others aren’t fully explored.” That’s not a good thing. If Mozilla wants its platform to be a success, it needs to know where it’s headed and how to get there. Without that, it will be in for trouble.
7. Lost amid the competition
Let’s say that Mozilla finally gets its standalone operating system up and running and it delivers that to the mobile space. What are its chances of actually succeeding? Android will be dominant by then, the iPhone iOS platform will continue to be a favorite with smartphone buyers around the globe and Windows Phone 7 will be scrambling for market and mind share. Lest one forgets, there are other operating systems in the mobile space, including MeeGo and Bada, which smartphone buyers don’t know or care about. Mozilla’s platform seems to be a fine candidate to follow those platforms into obscurity.
8. Vendors won’t support it
One of Mozilla’s biggest issues might be getting vendors to support yet another operating system. Right now, several smartphone makers, including HTC and Samsung, support multiple mobile operating systems. By adding another to their rosters, not only will their hardware-development costs go up, but they might also run the risk of cannibalizing sales of their other products. What’s more, both Google and Microsoft will do everything they can to coax vendors to stick with their platforms and not add another to their product lineups. As nice as Mozilla’s operating system might eventually be, it might find itself hard-pressed to recruit vendors willing to invest in a whole new platform that might or might not catch on with customers.
9. Does Mozilla have the power to change things?
In a forum discussing its plans with members of its community, Mozilla said that it has the goal of “breaking the stranglehold of proprietary technologies over the mobile device world.” That’s a fine goal. But one needs to consider whether Mozilla has the power to actually achieve it. Unlike Google, which has immense power, Mozilla is best known for its browser. And that browser is starting to lose some of its support due to small, frequent updates. Until Mozilla can achieve the same level of importance and power as some of the other companies in the mobile space, it will have a hard time achieving its goals with its mobile OS.
10. The Chrome OS comparison
Ever since Mozilla unveiled its plans to develop “a complete, standalone operating system for the open Web,” comparisons have been drawn between it and Chrome OS. If those comparisons are carried out to the end, they will need to consider the fact that Google’s Web-based operating system has an unsure future and could very well remain marginalized by Windows. If Google can’t get its platform to succeed given its influence and the popularity of its brand what makes anyone think a Mozilla alternative would?
11. Apple, Microsoft will fight
Mozilla’s biggest threat might be the companies that support the closed-off, proprietary standards that the organization is trying so hard to fight against. Companies like Apple and Microsoft probably don’t want to see Mozilla succeed, simply because it could have a tangible, and potentially negative effect on their mobile goals. And the worst part for Mozilla is that those companies have boatloads of cash behind them to help push their agendas. Mozilla has the cards stacked against it in the mobile space, for sure.