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The Current Status of Mozilla’s Boot2Gecko

by Abel Avram on Feb 27, 2012 |

Mozilla has progressed with Boot2Gecko, an open mobile operating system who’s interface is made up of applications based only on HTML, JavaScript and CSS, and running on top of Gecko. Telefonica, Deutsche Telecom and Adobe have announced their interest in the platform.

Last summer Mozilla announced the intention to build an open source mobile operating system, Boot2Gecko (B2G), an OS that would be completely open and would use only web technologies: HTML, JavaScript and CSS. The architecture of B2G consists of three layers:

  1. Gonk - a HAL reusing low level Android components such as the Linux kernel and libusb
  2. Gecko - Firefox and Firefox Mobile’s layout engine
  3. Gaia – a collection of web apps representing the user interface

Being based on the Linux binaries as Android, B2G will run on a great variety of smartphone and tablets from the start. Gecko is to be enhanced with a new open WebAPI allowing Gaia applications to access hardware functionality without the need of writing any native code. This is similar with Open webOS which is also going to be based on a Linux kernel, but have a different rendering engine (QtWebKit), and the Enyo user interface promoting applications written using only web technologies.

Gaia is available on GitHub, and work has been started on a number of applications that are to represent B2G’s UI: homescreen, dialer, browser (shown in the figure), settings, camera, clock, music, video, and others. Gaia is not using any specific UI framework, according to Mozilla:

We do not require one UI framework -- all JavaScript libraries may be used, since we build on the open web standards such as HTML5, CSS, and, of course, JavaScript.

Mozilla has also announced the Open Web Apps Marketplace for applications running across the desktop, smartphones and tablets, and built upon the Firefox Add-ons website. The recently launched Mozilla Labs Apps project is offering guidance and tools for creating pure web applications built only with HTML, JavaScript and CSS. Adobe has announced their interest in open web apps suggesting the possibility of providing additional tools based on PhoneGap:

The Open Web Devices APIs can be supported as extensions to PhoneGap, enabling developers to create rich HTML5 apps that work across these new Open Web Devices and all of the platforms supported by PhoneGap, including Android, BlackBerry, iOS and Windows Phone.'

Mozilla partnered with Telefonica, an European, Latin American and Chinese telecommunications operator, to further develop B2G and to create this year the first custom device based on a Qualcomm chip. Deutsche Telekom, a German operator, has also announced their interested in Mozilla’s mobile platform at the Mobile World Congress 2012 (MWC), and will probably develop another device that is to run B2G.

Mozilla demoed a Samsung SII device running B2G during MWC (shown in the picture above). The Verge also posted a video showing how it is running.

According to the roadmap, Mozilla is currently on track, having shown a working product at MWC, and it originally planned for its manufacturing during Q2, but it is likely to happen some time later this year.

The WebAPI represents the most valuable asset of the B2G project. Mozilla said they wanted to push the WebAPI for adoption by the W3C, and, consequently, by all major browser vendors. Telefonica and Adobe would like to see the WebAPI adopted by the W3C.  If that would happen, then developers could write an application once and it would run on all mobile devices, no matter who produces them and what operating system is under covers. There are questions to be answered. Will Apple, Google and Microsoft accept that? If they did the differences between their mobile OSes will be diminished. Who is going to sell those applications if device manufacturers decide to run only signed apps? While it is unlikely for the three browser makers to embrace WebAPI, Mozilla’s only chances are to see more device manufacturers being interested in the new OS.

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