B2G (Boot to Gecko) new arrivals From Mozilla make a stand?

Saturday, July 30th 2011. | Gadget News

Mozilla announced plans to release it’s own open sourced, web-based, mobile operating system, currently known as “Boot to Gecko” (B2G). This is very similar to the approach Google has taken with Chrome OS targeting netbooks with one slight caveat, Google isn’t using Chrome OS on smartphones or tablets. Mozilla’s new project, Boot to Gecko, will be using Gecko (Mozilla’s browser layout engine which is also used in Android) as well as some components from Android for its underlying foundation. Google has taken some scrutiny over its labeling of their mobile OS (Android) being “truly” open source. Mozilla plans to appease the open source community by releasing B2G source code in real-time and bringing all approved additions to a standards group.

To elaborate on the decision to focus on B2G and create their own open source operating system, Mozilla engineer Andreas Gal stated in response to being asked why doesn’t Mozilla just support the current open source platform, Android:    “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.”

It’s very clear that Mozilla will have an identity battle it must win or risk not being an appealing alternative to consumers. Going totally open, as Mozilla intends might be a bit more challenging than it currently thinks. This past May at Google I/O, SVP of Mobile at Google had this to say about those who challenge its open source labeling:    “Open source is different than a community-driven project. Android is light on the community-driven side and heavy on the open source. Everything we do ends up in the open source repository. We’re building a platform, not an app. Developers evolve APIs and deprecate APIs, they are always adding new functionality. When we add new APIs, typically in my opinion community processes don’t work. It’s really hard to tell when you’re done, it’s really hard to tell what’s a release and what’s a beta. Developers have to have an expectation that all the APIs are done and complete at certain date. If it was a community process, an OEM could start building devices, then those devices would be incompatible from a third-party developer’s perspective. We have to make sure those APIs are on all those devices that adopt those platforms. Going forward, that becomes part of our job, our responsibility. A community process harder to manage. We take submissions form community, but it’s a much more controlled way in how it comes out.”

But in the current mobile space is there a place for B2G to thrive? Apple (iOS) and Windows (WP7) have greater control over what experience their users encounter with their platform mainly because they outline or in Apple’s case control what hardware their OS is released on. Apple has seen overwhelming success and Microsoft is stepping into the market with generous strides, both supporting a non-open source approach. Android has it’s baselines but hasn’t exactly placated to the open source crowd–the way others like Mozilla would have liked–in an effort to control the evil that is fragmentation. Device fragmentation isn’t the issue with Google, but fragmentation of the ecosystem. This will be a key disadvantage for Mozilla if it happens to fall into the same issues associated with being “open.” Having multiple shops, marketplaces and models as seen with Android, only makes it a more complicated experience not only for developers but just as importantly, for consumers. Then of course we have carriers wanting to insert their own experience or two cents into the matter. While Google seems to have inserted more control and specificity on the platform, it would be wise for Mozilla to learn from Google’s early mistakes.

While some are no doubt scratching their heads at the notion of yet another mobile OS to consider, Mozilla is actually playing in a game of catch up. Google’s Chrome browser and to a greater extent Chrome OS, does exactly what Mozilla is setting out to do; use web apps to bridge the technological and proprietary gap between mobile and desktop computers. Microsoft has already shown interest in the concept with evidence in the unveiling of Windows 8 and it’s new corresponding Internet Explorer 10 browser. The browser shipping with Windows 8 will serve as a core element within Windows 8 tablets, notebooks and desktops. IE 10 will build on the HTML5 and accelerated hardware graphics capabilities that Microsoft built into IE 9 as well as incorporate sandboxing and iframe isolation. With IE 10, a safe assumption from what was shown is that Microsoft is moving away from plug-ins and is embracing the move toward using Web applications to accomplish more in the browser.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still owns a majority of the market but with Google’s Chrome browser gaining significant market share it’s clear that Firefox feels the heat. To continue to stay relevant B2G may be the only viable scenario left for Mozilla. To keep their browser in serious contention, B2G is most certainly a premeditated act of survival. Mozilla obviously cannot afford to stand stagnant and allow IE 10 and Chrome to continue to move forward with web applications and not embrace the change as well.

Mozilla undoubtedly will face unprecedented challenges with this initiative and as stated earlier, creating an identity in the mobile market will have to be a priority. An identity wouldn’t be the first nor the last challenge for Mozilla, consideration must be taken that currently Mozilla doesn’t have the strongest track record with regards to operating in the mobile space. While they have attempted to clean up the browsers performance and overall footprint on desktops, their overall support on the previous Windows Mobile platforms and current Android platform has been lackluster. It’s more of the same–performance, RAM usage and crashes–if Mozilla can’t get it’s browser operating swiftly and efficiently in the mobile space it may already be doomed.

Mozilla hinted that B2G could show up in some form or another on the desktop but that it wasn’t likely, considering that they’re aiming for the tablet and smartphone market, users would have to rely heavily on wifi and cellular connections. While Chrome OS similarly offers the same, the biggest difference is that Chrome OS operates on a netbook not a tablet or smartphone. Deliberate how B2G is attempting to compete, by utilizing the browser to run web applications identical in functionality to their desktop counterparts. Current usage would seem to indicate that smartphones or even tablets aren’t being used to get “serious” work done and it’ll be hard to imagine the same using web apps. You can contribute to projects using web apps but it would be highly unlikely, borderline unfathomable asking consumers to operate equally on such devices when directly compared to that of the rival Chrome OS and it’s partnering Chromebook netbook. While the odds are against Mozilla, the jury is still out. Mozilla has a lot to prove with Boot to Gecko and while they seem to have a clear plan and a dedicated organization they may yet be successful.

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