Mozilla outlines plans for browser-based OS

You know what they say—imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Fresh from espousing a new, quicker release cycle modeled after Chrome, Mozilla is now drawing up plans for a browser-based operating system not unlike Chrome OS.

Mozilla’s manifesto can be found here on the Mozilla wiki. The Boot to Gecko project, named after Mozilla’s browser engine, will entail “building a complete, standalone operating system for the open web.” Mozilla will apparently use Google’s open-source Android software as a base, and I’m getting the impression that compatibility with phones is in the cards. Check out Mozilla’s to-do list for the project:

  • New web APIs: build prototype APIs for exposing device and OS capabilities to content (Telephony, SMS, Camera, USB, Bluetooth, NFC, etc.)
  • Privilege model: making sure that these new capabilities are safely exposed to pages and applications
  • Booting: prototype a low-level substrate for an Android-compatible device
  • Applications: choose and port or build apps to prove out and prioritize the power of the system.

Now, we may not see the fruits of Mozilla’s labor for a while yet. The Wiki page explains, “This project is in its infancy; some pieces of it are only captured in our heads today, others aren’t fully explored. 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 organization has created a discussion thread for that purpose.

Mozilla isn’t alone in wanting to replace traditional software with web apps. Google is already heading in that direction with Chrome OS, and Microsoft revealed last month that developers will be able to whip up Windows 8 apps using only HTML5 and JavaScript code. Mozilla might not have as many R&D dollars to throw at the concept as Google and Microsoft, but that hasn’t stopped it in the past.

Comments closed
    • revparadigm
    • 8 years ago

    Mozilla needs to temper that fantasy with observing real world situations – example…Google. Google has infinitely more resources to throw at a OS and is swimming upstream with it. With all the different projects out there the only apps that would probably work right on a Mozilla OS would be Firefox & Thunderbird 🙂

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    This probably won’t get far without significant patent reform. Mozilla couldn’t afford more than a few settlements in the current minefield.

    The Droid port is absolutely horrendous. I imagine this has a lot to do with it: They can’t optimize on Droid above and beyond the native browser.

    I’d be interested in this. I see flaws in every one of the current ecosystems and Mozilla aligns the closest with my hippy tech-side.

    • jensend
    • 8 years ago

    A whole bunch of comments here saying this is a “waste and distraction” and that they shouldn’t be “splitting up resources” – but you folks are completely wrongheaded in thinking that developer man-hours are a fungible commodity which you simply spend more of to get more results.

    Mozilla has lots and lots of capable people both inside and outside the organization working on all sorts of different things. If you decided “oh, nothing matters except JS speed, let’s force all the thousands of people involved with Mozilla to work on the JS engine” then there would actually be LESS improvement in JS than there would be without such an intervention. The same goes for any other aspect of Mozilla and the apps (FF, TB, etc) built on it.

    I see no signs that key developers are being switched over from more vital components to work on this. If this is an area where some people who might not otherwise make significant contributions to Mozilla can be helpful, why not explore this?

    There is one reason I see this as a strange move: right now the Moz-as-platform idea is being undermined in a lot of different ways: [list<][*<]Prism was canceled [/*<][*<]they just adopted a silly "we'll increment our version number and break all add-on compatibility every month!" tactic [/*<][*<]Ass Dotzler's deliberately anti-enterprise attitude esp. targeted towards company-built add-ons and apps [/*<][*<]XULRunner's future is in question [/*<][/list<] See [url<]http://www.glazman.org/weblog/dotclear/index.php?post/2011/07/12/I-still-don-t-understand[/url<] for some more about developers' worries about Moz-as-platform. If they're busy alienating the people trying to build on top of their work right now, I have a hard time seeing people deciding that B2G should be the next big development target.

      • Squeazle
      • 8 years ago

      Always good to have input from an informed source, but did you mean less total improvement, or less progress per person? If it’s the first one, please explain.

        • jensend
        • 8 years ago

        Less total improvement. See [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooks%27s_law[/url<] and the famous book "The Mythical Man-Month." More developers means more effort has to be spent educating everybody, communicating (N people->N(N-1)/2 communication channels), and trying to integrate everybody's work. At some point the overhead when you add another developer is not just causing less per-developer productivity but less total productivity. There's no magic formula for figuring out where that would happen, but a cursory glance at different pages suggests that each of the major JS engines has less than a dozen people who are primary contributors. There's a reason for that beyond just budget. You might get better results by adding a couple full-time people, especially if they had the right expertise and worthwhile ideas which were new to the project. (Mozilla's improvements in JS in the past few years have been largely due to hiring Andreas Gal and then David Mandelin right after they finished their Ph.D. work in compiler and virtual machine design- you can't simply take people away from any random Mozilla project and expect them to contribute at that kind of level.) But if you tried to put five dozen full-time people on such a project it would be absolutely disastrous no matter what their expertise. The same applies to any software development project, though the numbers will change with the project's scope. There are ways to fight this but none of them are without their own problems. For instance, you can try to reduce the amount of the project which a given developer needs to understand and the number of people with whom they need to communicate by making things more hierarchical and splitting things into subprojects each with their own leaders. But that tends to make it so sweeping changes which rework the overall structure are much less likely to happen when they need to.

      • mutarasector
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]A whole bunch of comments here saying this is a "waste and distraction" and that they shouldn't be "splitting up resources" - but you folks are completely wrongheaded in thinking that developer man-hours are a fungible commodity which you simply spend more of to get more results.[/quote<] I don't believe anyone was really limiting 'resources' to just man-hours as a fungible commodity... at least I wasn't. [quote<]Mozilla has lots and lots of capable people both inside and outside the organization working on all sorts of different things. If you decided "oh, nothing matters except JS speed, let's force all the thousands of people involved with Mozilla to work on the JS engine" then there would actually be LESS improvement in JS than there would be without such an intervention. The same goes for any other aspect of Mozilla and the apps (FF, TB, etc) built on it.[/quote<] A valid point, but again, it doesn't address the logistics of developing a mobile OS, and a lack of required >hardware< expertise in this area (relatively speaking w/regard to established players today). When has Mozilla even demonstrated an >interest<, much less the resources/capability/required competencies of such an endeavor? While their public statement to date seems to appear thoughtful and deliberate on the [i<]surface[/i<], current market trends and general ferocity that has gripped other significant players seems to belie this (to my mind) as it gives Mozilla the general appearance of Mozilla succumbing to the mobile/social craze. [quote<]I see no signs that key developers are being switched over from more vital components to work on this. If this is an area where some people who might not otherwise make significant contributions to Mozilla can be helpful, why not explore this?[/quote<] I no signs of key developers with hardware expertise either. Not so much as a whisper, much less a rumble. [quote<]There is one reason I see this as a strange move: right now the Moz-as-platform idea is being undermined in a lot of different ways: Prism was canceled they just adopted a silly "we'll increment our version number and break all add-on compatibility every month!" tactic Ass Dotzler's deliberately anti-enterprise attitude esp. targeted towards company-built add-ons and apps XULRunner's future is in question[/quote<] Agreed on all points, especially #2 & #3. I would add what I consider a significant factor as well - their apparent intention to be a software only/thin layer player rather than partnering with a significant hardware vendor and co-development of a native developer kit. Everyone that has tried it has ended up caving into developers with an NDK, including Apple (well RIM still hasn't learned the lesson, apparently.) Perhaps Mozilla thinks they can duplicate MSFT's WinHEC paradigm in mobile space? I would also add that Mozilla has rather light personal body armor to be walking through to the inevitable patent minefield, no?

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]they just adopted a silly "we'll increment our version number and break all add-on compatibility every month!" tactic[/quote<] Ugh, this. I want my browser to be a platform for doing other things, not an app in its own right. Evolving a mature product every "n" weeks and breaking add-ons that didn't need to be broken, is a sure sign that Mozilla does NOT know how to build an OS, browser-based or otherwise.

    • mutarasector
    • 8 years ago

    If Mozilla intends to do yet another mobile OS that does “not use Android’s Java-based environment and it will not support programming in native code”, BTG will be spelled >DOA<…

    For BTG to succeed, it will require developer community support. No NDK support – NO developers. This is a very >bad< idea. They’re either all in, or should never step one foot down that path to begin with.

    Mozilla should ask RIM how well no NDK for PlayBook’s QNX based OS is working for them…

    • smilingcrow
    • 8 years ago

    I use Firefox as my main browser but if their O/S lite crashes as frequently it would be like going to back to the Win 95/98 days; NO THANKS.

    • xeridea
    • 8 years ago

    This is crap. They are far better off improving browser than splitting up resources on this stupid project. ChromeOS is retarded, I will never use it. Sure it may be fast to boot, but you can’t do crap on it. Oh yeah, this is the 21st century and there is this thing called Sleep/Standby. Who in their right mind would give up being able to actually do something with their computer other than Facebook, banking, general web browsing and some limited cloud services for a few seconds of boot/resume time? The web can’t do everything. There are a hundred reasons I could never get by on a ChromeBook due to limited web. This whole web only, everything in the cloud movement is putting a really bleak outlook on the future. Why try to sandbox everyone onto a limited set of tasks? Are they trying to dumb down the world? If all the OSs go down current path, I may just be using Win7 in my car on the way to Mars.

    Don’t get me wrong, the web is an amazing thing, and enables thousands of activities to be done that would otherwise be impossible/clunky, but it isn’t the ONLY thing.

      • mutarasector
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]They are far better off improving browser than splitting up resources on this stupid project[/quote<] It does seem to be a waste of their resources which are meager compared to the other players already much farther down this road just to end up being an 'also-ran' OS w/already overcrowded competition. As much as I like Mozilla's endeavors philosophically, this just seems way too ambitious from a practical standpoint, and on so many fronts. I realize/appreciate they must feel a need to spread their position a bit and move out of the browser sandbox, but I suspect they'd be better off focusing on partnerships with a few established players instead. On one hand, RIM sorely needs a NDK, and native email/calendar client. OTOH, HP needs more apps, and Mozilla could do better by partnering with a hardware platform vendor like HP that is going to be putting WebOS on over 75M devices a year. It seems more logical to focus its browser, Mozilla Messaging, Sunbird/Lightning efforts with an eye towards those platforms, and helping shore up some gaps in those ecosystems, without nearly as much competition in those ecosystems.

    • crabjokeman
    • 8 years ago

    All this mobile crap is depressing. I don’t have/want a cell phone or a tablet. He!!, I rarely leave my mom’s basement. When will the companies cater to my liking? Just because I don’t have a job/money, doesn’t mean you can ignore me and my fellow hermits. I might start a revolution when the weather cools down and I’m not afraid to go outside because of all the insects and UV rays. Beware!

      • sweatshopking
      • 8 years ago

      imma assume you’re being serious, as i know people like you.

        • crabjokeman
        • 8 years ago

        Well, I still live on the ground floor (for now), but everything else is true.

    • bowman
    • 8 years ago

    Ugh. Fix your browser instead. There’s no reason it should be slower than Chrome.

    • bthylafh
    • 8 years ago

    Emacs: a pretty good operating system, but the editor is wanting.

    Dont’ be Emacs, Mozilla.

    • burntham77
    • 8 years ago

    I like choices, but this is getting out of hand.

    • kvndoom
    • 8 years ago

    Will you PLEASE stop trying to be google and go back to being Mozilla? Ugh this is as depressing as shopping for a car and watching all the car companies sterilizing their lineup for the sake of being the next Toyota.

      • Corrado
      • 8 years ago

      Agreed. Not every product has to appeal to the ENTIRE MARKET. Stop trying to make everything vanilla in order to appeal to more people. You’re actually making LESS appealing to the people that were already loyal to you.

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      Sterilizing? Up until recently I think most people just wanted Toyota’s reliability at any cost.

    • Farting Bob
    • 8 years ago

    Seems like a waste and a distraction for Mozilla who should just stay with what they do now. If they want to get into that area, just work with android more closely.

      • Joe Miller
      • 8 years ago

      Yes, they could work together with Google. Joined they would have considerable development force. The blessing and the curse of open source development – fragmentation, leading to developing different ideas, but slower and in small scale = no penetration

        • mutarasector
        • 8 years ago

        Highly unlikely given the discord between the two in recent years, and moreso now that Google has dropped its toolbar support for Mozilla. Personally, I think Mozilla would be better off working with someone like HP/WebOS and or RIM/BBTOS(QNX).

        [EDIT] <———– Gecko / ChromeOS ————>

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