Not too many people know that Mozilla – the non-profit Foundation responsible among other things for the Firefox web browser is actively working on a new mobile operating system scheduled for release later this year called Boot 2 Gecko (or B2G).
With Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft Windows Phone – who really needs another mobile OS? The answer is Mozilla, who seem to think that there is a need for a very different kind of mobile OS. Looking at Windows Phone for example – one of the major hurdles for Microsoft was to convince developers to create new applications to go along with it. By late 2011 Windows Phone had only 40,000 apps while Android had over 380,000 and iOS well over half a million. Starting a whole new app ecosystem does not seem like a logical move at this point. That is unless you think you have an ace up your sleeve such as an already existing huge developer community with a large number of apps. Which is exactly what Mozilla think it has.
Mozilla’s idea behind B2G is that instead of booting into a traditional mobile OS and then accessing the applications, the mobile device will boot directly into Mozilla’s web engine (known as Gecko) which will access the apps through the web (where all the apps will be located). The advantage for Mozilla here is that it will not have to start from scratch, since it already have a large number of open source developers working on web apps for their browser and other software, so making them write web apps for mobile OS should (theoretically at least) pose only a small change.
Mozilla is scheduled to announce many more details on B2G as well as showcase a working prototype mobile phone running B2G at the upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC) which will take place in Barcelona in late February 2012. The big question is whether manufacturers will see the benefits of B2G over Android (or Windows Phone) and agree to launch a commercial B2G based device.
Besides OEM support for the project, there are many other open questions regarding B2G – for example, whether or not users will be willing to purchase a device which might not work properly without a 3G connection (for example Google Chromebook is a similar concept for notebook computer which had only a very modest success so far).
Iddo has a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science and an M.A. in Philosophy of Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between the scientific community and industry. Iddo was awarded the 2006 Bar Hillel philosophy of science prize for his work on the relationship between science and technology. He is a member of the board of the lifeboat foundation and was the editor of several high-profile science and technology websites since 1999.