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Mozilla preempts Google with 'open' web app store prototype

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Mozilla has released a prototype for what it calls an "open web app ecosystem," a browser-agnostic answer to Google's upcoming Chrome Web App Store.

The open source outfit proposes a store that works with any "modern" desktop or mobile browser, offering both free and for-pay apps based on standard web technologies.

"The open Web is a great platform for rich applications," reads a blog post from Mozilla man Jay Sullivan. "It would be even better if it had additional capabilities to ease discovery, acquisition, installation, and use of apps, while also enabling monetisation for developers."

Mozilla first announced its plans for an open web app store in late May, a day after Google unveiled the Chrome store to much fanfare at its annual developer conference in San Francisco. Five months later, Mozilla has fleshed out its initial idea, offering technical documentation for the proposed system as well as a prototype.

Unlike the Chrome Web Store, Mozilla's prototype works with myriad browsers, including Firefox 3.6 and later, Firefox for mobile, Internet Explorer 8, Chrome 6, Safari 5, Opera 10 and WebKit mobile. But like the Google shop – due to open sometime this fall, prior to the release of Chrome OS – it mimics native app installs, adding web app icons to the browser for instantly launching web applications.

In addition to offering an HTML5-built browser "dashboard" where you can "install," manage and launch applications, the prototype includes a simple mechanism for distributing paid applications and OpenID-based authentication tools for handling user log-in at launch. Mozilla also envisions a store that lets users purchase an app on one browser and move it to another browser without repurchase, and it believes the system should mediate certain "advanced or "privacy-sensitive" services, such as geolocation.

Mozilla's open web apps are little more than existing web apps with some additional meta data stored in a JSON manifest. But they are built solely with standard web technologies, including HTML, CSS, and Javascript. This is another obvious departure from the Chrome Web Store, and will include, among other things, apps based on Native Client, the Google plug-in that runs native code inside the browser.

Naturally, these open web apps could be distributed from developer websites as well as the store, and they could turn up in any number of other stores. Sullivan says: "[Open web apps should] be distributed by developers directly to users without any gatekeeper, and distributed through multiple stores, allowing stores to compete on customer service, price, policies, app discoverability, ratings, reviews, and other attributes."

Technical documentation for the proposed system is here, and you can view a video explaining the project here:

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