Mozilla wants a Web-based OS

Four Mozilla devs have outlined their vision of a Web-based OS capable of displacing proprietary, single-vendor stacks for application development. 

“To make open web technologies a better basis for future apps on mobile and desktop alike, we need to keep pushing the envelope of the web to include – and in places exceed – the capabilities of the competing stacks in question,” the devs explained in an official Wiki post.

“We also need a hill to take, in order to scope and focus our efforts. We want to 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.”

To realize their Web-centric vision, the devs are proposing an initiative dubbed Boot to Gecko (B2G) – which will ultimately result in the creation of a complete standalone operating system for the open web.

As expected, Mozilla acknowledged the project will require work in a number of areas, including new web APIs (for telephony, SMS, camera, USB, Bluetooth, and NFC), privilege models, booting and apps. 

“[Yes], this project is in its infancy; some pieces of it are only captured in our heads today, others aren’t fully explored,” said the devs. 

“But we’re talking about it now because we want expertise from all over Mozilla – and from people who aren’t yet part of Mozilla – to inform and build the project we’re outlining here.”

The B2G group also promised the project would be worked on in the open, with the source code being released in real-time.

“[Remember], we aren’t trying to have these native-grade apps just run on Firefox, we’re trying to have them run on the web,” they added.

Interestingly enough, B2G dev Mike Shaver clarified in a subsequent forum post that the project was focused on facilitating a web-based experience for “handhelds, tablets and mobile.”

“As with ChromeOS and other such projects, we’ll be looking all over the place for both inspiration and collaboration. [Sure], we might prototype some stuff on a PC, but the project is really about the device space.

“We had to pick somewhere, and this seems like where the energy is best spent. Desktop devices tend to be harder to get good open drivers for without pulling in things like X, which we don’t want to do.”

Meanwhile, B2G member Brendan Elch confirmed Mozilla would be borrowing the Android kernel and related device drivers for the project.

“These days the device makers are moving to Android. To get all the HAL benefits, we want to reuse its lower layers. All open source is a requirement in my view. We’ll see how this goes…”

Nevertheless, Shaver emphasized Mozilla intended to use “as little of Android as possible.”

“Really, we want to use the kernel + drivers, plus libc and ancillary stuff. 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. Our experiences with performance and hardware acceleration on X haven’t been great, and it’s a pretty heavyweight component to bring in.”