Feb 15 AT 2:38 PM Taylor Wimberly 45 Comments

Mozilla’s plan to devour Android


Mozilla is currently a friend to Android, supporting the Firefox browser for smartphones and tablets, but their long term vision is to develop open software that will eventually replace Google’s mobile OS. The project is called Boot to Gecko (B2G), and it’s a lot closer to reality than many realize.

Jay Sullivan, VP of Products at Mozilla, recently shared his vision for the Firefox project in 2012. “We want the platform in Firefox to enable app-quality experiences and developer productivity that rivals native platforms.” Very simply, they believe the open web can displace proprietary, single-vendor stacks (Android, iOS, WP7, etc) for application development.

You can see more of the Mozilla’s vision to become something bigger than Firefox in a video they recently uploaded to YouTube.

So does that mean we will see a Firefox phone? Publicly, Mozilla says they have no plans to build or distribute a custom device. However, if Boot to Gecko is successful then it could form the basis for one.

Their first test will come later this month at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Mozilla will demonstrate a working version of Boot to Gecko that developers can use as their day-to-day phone. The team at Mozilla selected the Samsung Galaxy S II as their development platform because the device was commercially available to Mozilla employees and it includes all the latest hardware like NFC.

If things go according to plan, Mozilla hopes they can convince an ODM or OEM to help them launch the first actual device that would ship with Boot to Gecko.

In an online FAQ, Mozilla says that they don’t expect Boot to Gecko will affect their relationships with other organizations such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, but this project clearly competes with other products that those companies are working on.

Google’s version of their web operating system is called Chromium OS and it currently targets the desktop environment. These products are already in the market under the Chromebook brand, with retail prices starting at $299. I received a Samsung Chromebook at last year’s Google IO, but it didn’t quite offer the experience that I wanted so I gave it to my mom. She loves it.

Mozilla doesn’t seem to think that Boot to Gecko competes with Chromium OS because they are “aiming at mobile/tablet devices rather than a notebook form factor.” Google might have started with notebooks, but they already acknowledged that a tablet version of Chrome OS is in the works.

I have said before that I think Chrome OS will eventually come to smartphones, but I didn’t think it would happen for another five years. Google recently released Chrome browser for Android, so it’s not that much of a stretch to assume they are working on Chrome OS for smartphones.

Now with Mozilla pushing the boundaries of an open web operating system on mobile devices, it could force Google to accelerate their plans. Or not. Mozilla only has 20 engineers working full-time on Boot to Gecko, and I doubt that Google sees them as a threat yet.

Whatever happens, I’m interested to see where this goes – both with Mozilla’s Boot to Gecko, and Google’s Chrome OS. Google could definitely make Chrome OS their mobile platform of choice one day, but they already have so much invested in Android. I can’t picture any current scenario where Google would stop supporting Android, but anything is possible.

The main benefit of a web operating system to the average consumer, is a platform that is always up to date. Every time a user would turn their device on, it would automatically update itself. This would certainly solve Android’s nasty fragmentation problem, but I’m not sure if the wireless carriers are ready to go down that road.

Eventually though, someone will launch a retail mobile device with a true web operating system. It could be Mozilla or Google, or heck even Facebook. I’ll be at Mobile World Congress this month to let you know how close Mozilla is to achieving their vision.

How long do you think it will be before we see a smartphone that boots to the web?

Update: The collection of web apps that make up the UI for Boot to Gecko is called Gaia. The following are the designs provided by the Gaia team of the browser and gallery web apps. Apparently it was already demoed in public because I found some pics from a Dutch site and Japanese site.

Gaia_photos_player_mockup-m2 Gaia_photos_mockup-m2 Gaia_browser_menu_mockup-m2 Gaia_browser_mockup-m2 mozilla-b2g-6 mozilla-b2g-5 mozilla-b2g-4 mozilla-b2g-3 Exif_JPEG_PICTURE Exif_JPEG_PICTURE Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Update 2: Ryan Paul of Arstechnica just posted a first look at Boot to Gecko and Gaia.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • http://www.mlswanson.com SparkyXI

    If you jump in and have a look, it’s pretty obvious what they’re trying to do. Enter Gaia.


    • http://www.jaxidian.org/update/ jaxidian

      Good find!

    • Bryan Stoner

      Being able to code with HTML is pretty awesome. The fact apps will run through the browser will get rid of a lot of interface confusion as well since each app is sharing a common framework.

      • thel0nerang3r

        I thought you could ran your app through the browser now.
        I thought that it meant that the HTML rendering would be available system wide, so that apps didn’t need the browser. HTML5 is quite powerful, there is a version of DOOM around coded in HTML5.

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      D’oh I had read about Gaia and I totally left that out. Have you seen any other UI pics other than the drawings on the B2G site?

      • http://www.mlswanson.com SparkyXI

        There are a few mockups of the UI here [ https://wiki.mozilla.org/Gaia/Browser ], but that’s just the browser app. Not much else to see.

      • http://www.mlswanson.com SparkyXI

        I also can’t help but wonder what “M2 – Demo Phone” is… https://github.com/andreasgal/gaia/issues?milestone=1&state=open

        • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

          All signs point to Galaxy S II. See pics added to the gallery.

          • http://www.mlswanson.com SparkyXI

            Ahh. Well they would then, wouldn’t they? :D

    • jonathan3579

      Mozilla really needs to work on their naming scheme though.

  • Jeff Pan

    I can see B2G completing with Chrome OS may be in 2 years time. I am assuming Chrome OS is going to much more mature by then.

    Anyway, competition is always good like it happened with Firefox and Chrome browsers!

  • Igor ganapolsky

    Another WebOS?

  • Meister_Li

    Considering the ineptitude Mozilla is still displaying in their mobile Firefox for Android… I am doubtful we’ll see much useful of “boot to gecko” anytime soon.

    • professandobey

      Agreed. While B2G looks promising, Mozilla hasn’t provided me real reason to consider them a real threat to Google, even if they are first to market. I think Mozilla’s first product will be an intriguing proof of concept and inspire other companies to make a mobile web based device.

  • Bryan Stoner

    If anyone is a little fuzzy on the B2G details, I found some concept UI mockups on their site: https://wiki.mozilla.org/B2G/UI

    They have some wonderful ideas. Is there really a need for an alternative UI for the users? Maybe not. I think it will really come down to Mozilla being able to back up this quote: “We want the platform in Firefox to enable app-quality experiences and developer productivity that rivals native platforms.”

  • thekaz

    I think one thing Google has going for it that it can leverage is all of its on-line product offerings and the integration between them (like in Android). I think you take all these cloud-based services, and Google is ahead of the competition (even Apple). The key is to keep it up, build marketshare and good products, and always be the innovator…

  • Stella

    I’m interested to see what Mozilla will offer. I have tons of respect for those guys. That said, I don’t see myself divorcing Andy but I do think competition helps drive innovation.

  • Dustin Earley

    I’d love to see a Chrome phone. Android could continue down the path its on, and Google could release a Chrome phone once a year that is totally open-source.

  • jsweetser2

    The “nasty fragmentation” problem is being worked out as we speak, with ICS. We won have to worry too much about it anymore in the future. It may have taken us longer than Apple, but the momentum is there and the products are going to begin spilling out at a constant rate now that the platform has been set.

    • Bryan Stoner

      Don’t get too hasty here. The editor is on our side remember. Anyway what are your thoughts on B2G?

  • inviolable

    They need to work off some of the fat in their browser before devouring anything.

  • http://theandroidappshow.com Lane

    This is why Google won’t kill ChromeOS despite Android. Their roots are the web, making an OS is just a means to the same end which is web search profit.

    • T1392

      Why not combine the too? Android Chrome os??? The best of the web on a mobile phone. I use chrome myself & love it. I’m glad they brought the Chrome browser to android. I hope

      • T1392

        I hope chrome browser will soon becone the stock browser for android.

  • Hall Lo

    Yay for more competition! i would like to see some competition like the firefox vs chrome for the mobile os market!

  • Bryan Stoner

    )@$)()*@$ I can’t hate on it! But but but!! It looks like Muiuwiz or something ><

    But still the main focus here seems to be their developer tools and app quality.

  • Steve Santinelli

    HAHAHAHAHA, I gave MY Mom my chromebook Google sent me, and SHE loves it too! What a great marketing slogan for Google, “For folks that just want to surf the web, AARP Approved!”

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      Lol I think you are onto something. Maybe our moms will love Chrome OS phones too. Android still seems a little confusing for the non-smartphone user.

      • WlfHart

        Agreed! Tried to get my mother in on the Android and it’s been a chore…

    • http://www.nexsoftware.net Justin Shapcott

      I couldn’t really make real use of my Google I/O Chromebook, but my wife likes it a lot. She’s not AARP — She just has no use for much more than a browser.

  • dancinbojangles

    I’m extremely skeptical. There seem to be a lot of parallels between this idea and Linux circa the Windows Vista era. In that case, there was a golden opportunity for Ubuntu and its ilk to make something really awesome and take over the desktop OS market. And yet, Linux still has the same steep learning curve, the same weird dependencies, etc. I think this shows that open-source software, when not supported by a large company, simply cannot compete with those large companies. Google’s huge, there’s no way Mozilla can devote the same resources.

    That said, I’m sure there will be some innovation, and that it will be a cool thing to see. The best plausible outcome I see is for this to gain a small amount of traction and have some good ideas, then just sort of piddle out. Prove me wrong, Mozilla! Nothing would make me happier.

  • Max.Steel

    Firefox browser has gone to total shit.

    • spazby


  • keithp

    Good graphic — the browser eats the operating system.

    Of course, WebOS tried the same thing, choked on the browser and died.

  • mike

    people talking about firefox browser being bad might want take a look at aurora
    full flash and extremely smooth and fast puts chrome to shame and its still in alpha


  • Rockstar323

    The real questions is, are Mozilla’s pockets deep enough to go up against Apple when they get sued for violating one of Apple’s vague patents?

  • geeknik

    I wouldn’t mind replacing Chrome on my CR-48 with something from Mozilla.. =)

  • http://www.mlswanson.com SparkyXI

    I personally would love to see something like this come to fruition. Closed source will eventually go away – html5 and emerging web tech is starting to become powerful enough to compete. Just wait until mobile data speeds and micro-computing come into their next evolutions…

    I bought a Chromebook and love it. Soon the web will envelop computing (bye, Windows…).

  • kungpaodragon

    AWESOME! I can’t wait to see it. If I like it better than Android, I’ll have no problem switching to it. Unlike some people who are either incapable of learning or acknowledging other better technologies except ones inside the little ecosystem they’re inside of, I can appreciate the innovation of technology, no matter by whom, especially when I get to benefit from it. It’ll also give Apple another target to spend their legal fees on.

  • http://None Javier Bastardo

    I’m highly expecting B2G, and I think the idea of Google running both Android and Chrome OS side by side is not only go and I would personally love to have a Chrome Smartphone/Tablet.

  • cb2000a

    Oh great another mobile OS….I don’t think the people at Google will lose much sleep over this.

  • Shawn Clark

    Ill try but ill doubt itll b game changer. Besides, What else can you that you cant do on the online anyways?

  • MoSDeeb

    Chrome OS is a wonderful product and seeing it merger with android would be the start to a cloud server based phone. Although in this situation data caps would hinder usability.

  • nippi

    why everyone is after android…y???y r ppl so jealous of android..

  • frank

    Mozilla I believe in you, so go and make your vision a reality!