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Google’s (S GOOG) Chromecast streaming stick could soon get competition from an unexpected source: Mozilla has secretly been working with a partner on a Chromecast-like streaming stick that is powered by Firefox OS. The project was supposed to be under wraps for at least a few more weeks, but Thursday, news started to leak out when a Mozilla evangelist tweeted a photo of a prototype of the device.
I’ve been tracking this project for some time. I’ve talked to sources directly involved, and actually was able to get my hands on one of the prototype devices that are currently being shared with a very small circle of developers. There are still lots of unanswered questions about this project; the device doesn’t have a name yet, it’s not exactly clear when it will go on sale, for how much, or in which markets, and I don’t know the name of the company that will eventually make or sell the hardware.
What I do know is that it is an ambitious project that aims to combine Mozilla’s commitment to openness with a Chromecast-like media streaming device. And here’s the biggest surprise: The prototype I had access to not only works like Chromecast, it actually is capable of running some Chromecast apps. Check it out:
Mozilla has been working for some time on adding casting and multiscreen capabilities to Firefox. Firefox developers have experimented with casting content to Roku streaming boxes, and recent developer notes hinted at the possibility that Firefox may also one day support Chromecast as well as an ominous “Netcast” device.
It now looks like this Netcast device is this Firefox OS-powered streaming stick, even though Netcast is likely just another code name. The plan is apparently to add casting to Firefox as well as offer developers a casting device that is more open and hackable than Google’s Chromecast.
Google opened up its Google Cast SDK earlier this year, and Google executives have said that they want to bring casting capabilities to countless of apps. However, there are some restrictions Google Cast developers are bound to. Certain types of content aren’t allowed, and the Google Cast SDK is thus far limited to Android and iOS apps as well as web apps.
Mozilla’s device won’t come with these kinds of restrictions, which could enable developers to add cast capabilities to Windows (S MSFT) Phone or Fire (S AMZN) phone apps. Moreover, developers could also add casting to desktop apps, and may even be able to build their own cast-enabled hardware with little interference from Mozilla. It’s also possible that the hardware could be used to run other software, as it will apparently come with an open boot loader.
Speaking of which: While Google closely controlled the development and manufacturing of its Chromecast adapter, it seems like Mozilla is far less involved in the actual manufacturing of this product, which mirrors the hands-off approach it has had when partnering with manufacturers for Firefox OS phones. That sentiment was echoed by a Mozilla spokesperson, who sent me the following statement in response to an inquiry about the device:
“Firefox OS is an open platform freely available for any company to build on top of without restriction. This means companies can experiment with different form factors that run Firefox OS.”
And with that, it’s unclear when exactly we are going to see this as an actual product. But judging on the leak and the sources I have talked to, we may not have to wait that much longer.
This post was updated at 1:18pm with a statement from Mozilla.