Mozilla Launches Mobile OS Project

Carl Weinschenk

Back in the mists of telecommunications prehistory - twenty or thirty years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth - cavemen and women sat around debating how to maintain a cooking fire and, once that was done, where most of the smarts of the network should be located. Some said that they best reside at the end points (the devices) while others said that the best locale was in the network.

We've pretty much settled on briquettes and gas grills for cooking, but the jury is still out on the second question. More precisely, the nature of the network at hand influences what the answer is in a particular instance. Mobile networks place most intelligence in smartphones and tablets, while cloud networks more fully centralize computing horsepower.

The placement of all or most of the intelligence in handheld devices is one of the reasons that a landscape featuring multiple mobile operating systems - iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 and others - has emerged. That leads to one of the big downsides of an essentially dumb network: A fragmentary world emerges in which developers have to pick between operating systems.

The higher throughput of 4G networks increases the ability to off-load computing tasks from the end device. Google's Chrome is an attempt at this. In such an approach, the network is so fast that it can, to some degree, become part of the operating system.

This week, the Mozilla Foundation - the progenitors of Firefox - followed suit by announcing it has started developing a network-based mobile operating system of its own, which is being called (provisionally, hopefully) "Boot to Gecko," or B2G. DailyTech writes that Gecko "is the name of the layout engine found in Mozilla's popular Firefox browser."

DailyTech and CNET offer details about the open-source project, including the fact that source code will be released as it is written. At PC World, IDG News Services' Nancy Gohring offers a succinct perspective on its rationale:

Developers today must re-write their applications to run on the various mobile-phone platforms. There have been many attempts over the past decade to build technologies that would let developers write an application once and have it run on multiple phone operating systems, but none has worked well.

She adds that the advent of HTML5, which is aimed at allowing a higher level of cross-OS development, has so far fallen short of expectations. eWeek's Don Reisinger, it should be noted, offers no fewer than 11 reasons B2G will have a hard time.

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