Operating Systems

Mozilla’s Head Is in the Cloud With New Mobile OS Idea

The Mozilla Foundation is looking into creating a standalone mobile operating system for the open Web.

A team of programmers from the organization has set up the Boot to Gecko (B2G) project to work on this idea.

This OS is based on the idea that the Web can displace proprietary, single-vendor stacks for application development.

The team will work on new Web APIs, a privilege model for security, and choose to either port apps or build apps out for the OS.

The B2G project will use various technologies from Android, including the kernel.

Its developers pledge to keep the project open source and adhere to standards.

“This is about the transformation we are living through in devices and Mozilla desiring a place at the table,” Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

That transformation’s about mobile devices increasingly taking over from PCs and an accompanying movement to the cloud, which “means lightweight interfaces on lightweight operating systems have a chance to break through in the next few years,” Hilwa said.

However, Joshua Greenman, president of Mercury Development, is skeptical.

“Why hasn’t this been attempted by companies with more perfect market information and enormous financial incentives to do so, like HTC, Samsung or Nokia?” Greenman asked.

“Boot to Gecko is an early-stage, exploratory project with the goal of building a complete, standalone operating system for the open Web,” Mike Shaver, Mozilla’s vice president of technology strategy, told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s not a product offering but, if successful, could form the basis for one,” Weaver stated, adding that Mozilla’s “very early in the project, soliciting suggestions and contributions” from a variety of sources.

Lizard Love

B2G is aimed at making open Web technologies a better basis for future applications on mobile devices and desktops.

To that end, the team behind the project plans to build prototype application programming interfaces (APIs) for exposing device and operating system capabilities to content such as telephony, SMS, camera, USB, Bluetooth and near-field communications (NFC).

To ensure security, the B2G team will implement a privileges model that ensures the new capabilities will be safely exposed to pages and applications.

The question of privileges, which means the right to access an application or OS, is a thorny one. Android, for example, gives downloaded applications a wide range of privileges, and some security analysts contend this is one of the reasons malware is spreading on that OS.

B2G will use the Android kernel, drivers, the GNU C library, and “ancillary stuff,” Mozilla’s Shaver said in a Google forum on the project.

The B2G team consists of three people, according to the project’s FAQ.

The project will use technology from Firefox mobile and Mozilla’s Gecko layout engine.

B2G will not affect Mozilla’s relationships with Apple, Google or Microsoft, according to the FAQ. The project’s different from Google’s Chrome OS in that Mozilla’s aiming at mobile and tablet devices rather than a notebook form factor, the FAQ states.

The B2G team hasn’t yet settled on what hardware to run the OS on, but it’s likely to select a device running Nvidia’s Tegra 2 mobile super chip because that supports VP8 hardware acceleration.

VP8 is an open video compression format from Google, which purchased the technology’s developer, On2 Technologies, back in 2010.

Reactions to B2G

The B2G project “has a similar value proposition to Google Chrome OS,” IDC’s Hilwa remarked. Both deal with data, content and device engagement in the cloud.

Mozilla’s driven by “a Web OS agenda” in working on B2G, and the putative OS may not be well-accepted by device makers, Mercury Development’s Greenman warned.

Device manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung and Nokia are “not likely to switch OSes from a financially successful model and an entrenched OS,” Greenman contends.

HTC and Samsung are best known for their Android smartphones, although HTC also makes Windows-based mobile devices. Nokia is teaming up with Microsoft to use Windows Phone 7.

Is Android Safe?

Right now, some Android device manufacturers are being put under legal pressure by Microsoft, Apple and Gemalto over what these three contend are patent infringements. Microsoft has already convinced some Android device makers to shell out royalties.

Meanwhile, Gemalto is suing Google over patents to the Dalvik virtual machine, which is at the core of Android, and other technologies. Google’s also being sued by Oracle, which asserts rights to Java IP being used in Android.

Given all this, isn’t the B2G project’s relying on Android technologies akin to diving into a pool of sharks in a feeding frenzy?

“Relying on Android IP may be problematic, as it exposes Mozilla to some potential legal issues and patent claims,” IDC’s Hilwa said.

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