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Mozilla Builds Smartphone OS Using Android Kernel

On Monday, Mozilla, the developer behind the popular Firefox web browser, revealed preliminary plans for a universal-platform mobile OS called Boot to Gecko (or B2G). It will feature the Linux-based Android kernel and device drivers beneath a custom user interface and application stack based on Gecko, the Firefox and Thunderbird HTML rendering engine.

Although the team already has a demo up and running, the project is still in its "infancy" as Mozilla research engineer Andreas Gal states – bits and pieces still remain in their heads, others aren’t fully explored. That said, don't expect to see the new OS anytime soon, and don't expect it to be a Firefox-themed OS either.

"We want to take a bigger step now, and 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," Gal said.

Ultimately the goal is to create an HTML5-driven web environment where HTML5 apps can offer the same functionality as traditional apps. Like Google’s Chrome OS, B2G will be a complete standalone OS entirely dependent on the open web. Thus, Mozilla will provide a set of B2G APIs for building HTML5-based apps that access device telephone, SMS, camera, USB, Bluetooth, NFC and other features.

"We will do this work in the open, we will release the source in real-time, we will take all successful additions to an appropriate standards group, and we will track changes that come out of that process," 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."

Mike Shaver, VP of engineering, later added that Mozilla will be looking for both inspiration and collaboration from interested developers and contributors. He also made it clear that the new OS will focus on the handheld, tablet and mobile experience.

Although the team chose the Linux-based Android kernel and device drivers because (theoretically) they're compatible with existing hardware, the team intends to use as little of Android as possible. "Really, we want to use the kernel + drivers, plus libc and ancillary stuff," Shaver said. "It's not likely that we'll use the Android Java-wrapped graphics APIs, for example.  It's nice to start from something that's known to boot and have access to all the devices we want to expose.  Maybe that's not the right direction, though, so if someone wants to explore another direction that'd be just fine."

Currently the B2G project is divided into four components: creating the new web APIs for building the apps; building a privilege model so that new features are "safely exposed" to pages and applications; creating a low-level substrate for an Android -compatible device; and choosing to either port or build apps to prove out and prioritize the power of the system.

But will using Android as a building block be the right thing to do given that Android vendors are currently facing legal IP issues with Microsoft and Apple? IP activist and blogger Florian Mueller thinks the B2G team will face the same wrath.

"Android currently faces the worst intellectual property issues any software ever had in the history of this industry," he told ZDNet. "Using any Android building blocks seems risky, but Mozilla is also unlikely to safely walk through the patent minefield with any code of its own. It probably won’t be able to give assurances to device makers either way."

To read more about the upcoming Mozilla OS, head here.

  • gamebrigada
    Great, building an embedded os in an embedded os. Fantastic.
  • bobusboy
    I'm looking forward to seeing if this OS can go on my android phone........
  • Khimera2000
    all that sounds cool, but using HTML5 to access all those hardware features, makes me nervous. its a new world, with new possibilities to get boned over. there is no way of telling what problems might come from this, and till i'm comfortable with it, I would rather have some kind of middle man between HTML5 and my hardware.

    Another curiosity is who do they expect to push out the hardware? HTC and the like already have multiple lines for android, and are pushing out Win7. I don't expect them to be to happy to spend millions on developing hardware for a third platform that is even more of a gamble then windows mobile 7.

    To be honest I think that the end user experience will be the driving factor. You can market what makes this phone OS better then all the rest, but it all comes down to how easy it is for developers to make programs, and how easy it is for users to enjoy those programs, while receiving all there messages. If Mozilla cant come up with a killer use that Android, Win7, or iOS cant meet then I don't see them taking of.
  • @mobrocket

    yes Steve Job is very angry he dont get any royalty checks, indeed....
  • Khimera2000
    jacekringThey did say that it will use the Android Kernel, so the HTML5 will not directly interact with hardware. There will be an interface layer between the Kernel and the HTML5 interface, probably a parser.Oh btw, I thought that the Android Kernel was the Linux v2.6 it's kind of stupid to call it the "Android Kernel" because Android doesn't have it's own kernel, it uses the Linux Kernel.
    cool :) still won't trust it, the easiest example in recent history is OSX, which in its original release had some really scary bugs that apple refused to acknowledge, if you want another example there where certain versions of HTC's touch flow interface (is that what its called?) that could be messed up with a single text message if you knew the right string of characters to send.

    My issue isn't with the implantation, i'm sure they will do all they can to make it secure. Its being a first adopter, and taking a risk with a device that will take center stage for my calls, and my social network accounts.

    A lot more can be lost, and a lot more will be at risk when this product comes to market. I support HTML 5, but i'm not sure how far companies should extend that functionality vs how familiar they are with HTML5. It is new, and I think that developers should spend more time becoming familiar with HTML5 development (bring out some cool apps that people feel the need to go to), before talking about extending its functionality into more hardware, specifically the data and voice functions on the device.

    Its new, and I stand by my opinion, unless there's a really beefy layer of security between a peace of code that can run on my browser, and as a program on my phone, I wont trust it.
  • They should base it on linux to avoid all the patent lawsuit wars going on, what are they thinking?
  • Yeah, let websites interface DIRECTLY WITH HARDWARE.

    What could possibly go wrong?
  • yannigr
    ONE android beats anything. 15 Androids?..... Microsoft and Apple win.
  • Marco925
    mobrocketGood for them. Doubt this project will go anywhere thou... screw MSFT, APPLE and the gang, u didnt invent anything... if anyone should be pissed GOD should for creating electricity... he is awaitng his royality check stillShall i also pay god royalties when i have children? after all i didnt invent people either.

    Please take your religious rants somewhere else, while i am Catholic, i do not go trolling on forums to preach.
  • Rab1d-BDGR
    I for one would like to see this - it would be great to have another alternative to Android provided they can make it stable and secure. However, I won't hold my breath, mozilla can take forever to deliver big projects like this. Look at FF mobile, it took forever to get to release and it still feels like a beta version to me - I've gone back to the default browser for now.