It’s far from clear whether Chrome OS has caught on with consumers or businesses, but Mozilla announced plans Monday to develop a Web-based mobile operating system of its own called Boot To Gecko. It’s a very similar concept to what Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has espoused for Chrome OS but will be aimed at phones and tablets as opposed to the netbooks Google has targeted with its project.
“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,” said Andreas Gal of Mozilla in announcing the project via a blog post and e-mail to a Mozilla discussion forum. Mozilla, best known for the Firefox Web browser, hopes to recruit an army of developers to help it build the Web-based operating system using Android components for the boring-but-essential plumbing of the operating system and Mozilla’s Gecko browser engine, which is the technology that translates code into the text, images and designs you see through a browser.
This won’t run Android applications, to be clear. Boot To Gecko (which I hope never becomes the actual name) would just apparently borrow pieces from the open-source Android project that allow a device to boot up when the power button is hit along with a few other very basic tasks. Mozilla engineers and volunteers would then write APIs (application programming interfaces) that would connect Web apps to things like the phone’s camera, and perhaps a few basic apps as well to get started.
In the discussion thread accompanying the announcement, Mozilla’s Mike Shaver said that the organization is eyeing phones and tablets, writing “We had to pick somewhere, and this seems like where the energy is best spent.” But it’s not clear how Mozilla plans to square the idea of an operating system written for the open Web with the control that wireless carrier exert on mobile phone distribution, which has forced Google to make hard choices with Android. Tablets might be a little different, but it’s hard to imagine that this type of project could challenge the iPad at the moment.
In any event, this is something that will take years to play out. It took Google nearly two years to release the first Chrome OS devices. Plenty of mobile industry developers and product designers are intrigued by the notion of a Web-based operating system, but it’s a complex undertaking even before trying to figure out how to sell the public on the idea.