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Mozilla Labs Apps Developer Preview

by Bienvenido David on Jan 17, 2012 |

Mozilla has launched the Mozilla Labs Apps Developer Preview, an early view of the Mozilla Labs Apps marketplace. The Mozilla Labs Apps project allows developers to create HTML5 applications that run across multiple devices (desktop, mobile, tablet) using Web standards like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. The Mozilla Labs Apps project will also operate its own marketplace to help in the distribution of these HTML5 applications. Mozilla is planning to launch the real marketplace for apps early 2012.

Mozilla Labs Apps are built using standard Web technologies with additional metadata from the Mozilla app manifest that allows the User Agent to discover, install, launch, and grant apps additional privileges. You only need to create an app manifest to create an app for an existing website. Of course, apps will have to take into consideration many factors to give the best user experience on different devices. This includes a responsive Web design that will look good on all devices, offline caching and storage, and device APIs like geolocation, orientation.

For these apps to work on a variety of different devices, Mozilla has created "App Runtimes". The HTML5 App Runtime is implemented in JavaScript and can be used in any browser. The App Runtime for Firefox is implemented using the Mozilla Add-on SDK and provides a better installation and launch experience for Firefox users. The App Runtime for Android allows these apps to work on the Android platform. The App Runtime for Android is a Java application with an embedded PhoneGap instance. Note that this current preview has no support for iOS.

Similar to the concept of the Mozilla Labs app manifest, the W3C Widgets specification standardizes the packaging and metadata of HTML applications. Opera fully supports the W3C Widgets specification and operates a "widget store" at http://widgets.opera.com. Google also allows you to create a Chrome Web App, taking metadata from a Chrome Web app manifest file. These Chrome Web Apps can be packaged and distributed on the Chrome Web Store.

What's coming next? Here are a few things the Mozilla Labs Apps team is working for the next few months.

  • WebRT. A cross platform App Runtime that has better OS integration and does not depend on Firefox.
  • WebAPI. Provide apps with more device APIs like camera and file system access.
  • Web Activities. The ability for apps to communicate with each other.
  • Standards. Standardization of app APIs.

 

To get started, visit the Mozilla Apps Getting Started page. The Developer Preview website where you can test the features of the Mozilla Apps marketplace is limited only to 3,000 developers and is currently closed. To get notified of future openings, you can subscribe to the Apps Developer Newsletter. For more information about the preview, read the official announcement at hacks.mozilla.org. For a more in depth look into the Mozilla Labs Apps system, read the Behind the Mozilla Apps Developer Preview blog post.

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