Boot To Gecko: Mozilla’s Open-Source, Mobile Answer To ChromeOS

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Straight from the heart of Mozilla’s developer newsgroup comes news of an ambitious new project: a standalone, web-based operating system. If that concept sounds familiar, I’ve also just described the core of Google’s Chrome OS which we’re beginning to see pop up on netbooks. The big twist?

It’s currently being developed for mobile devices. And it’s partially Android-based.

According to Dr. Andreas Gal, researcher at Mozilla, the impetus behind the Boot to Gecko project is to “make open web technologies a better basis for future applications on mobile and desktop alike”. A lofty goal to be sure, as the core underpinnings would ultimately extend beyond just mobile devices. Should Gal and his colleagues (and really anyone who wants to help) succeed, Boot to Gecko would have the potential to change how we interact with the web, regardless of platform.

Gal breaks the process down into actionable steps. First, the Boot to Gecko project aims to take the primary functions of a mobile device (i.e. “Telephony, SMS, Camera, USB, Bluetooth, NFC”) and create web APIs to handle them. From there, they intend to develop a way for web pages and applications to safely access those components as needed. They hope that by doing this, they (and other intrepid developers) will be able to create native-grade apps that run directly on the web instead of only being available on certain devices.

As I’ve mentioned, the open-source project is based partially off of Android — nothing terribly high-level though, just the kernel and the drivers so as to ensure that whatever progress they make can actually boot. It also doesn’t hurt that Android works (and in many case, has been made to work) on plenty of different hardware configurations, which is exactly what they need to see if the concept pans out. As it stands, development is in such a nascent stage that we have no idea what to expect visually, so no images yet folks.

Personally speaking, this idea has me on the edge of my seat. It will take a lot of work, and a lot of time, and there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever see a complete release. That’s the funny part though: I don’t think it really matters. If all they ever did was finish the API for telephony and SMS messaging, that would still signal a tremendous shift in how we use the web. Boot to Gecko will inevitably draw comparisons to ChromeOS (and I was guilty of this just a few paragraphs ago), but we stand to gain a much richer online experience if B2G comes to be. Only time will tell if these gentlemen succeed, but we’ll be certain to keep you up to date during the ride.