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Mozilla challenges Apple, Google with 'open' app store

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Firefox daddy Mozllla has released early code in its campaign to create a completely open alternative not only to Apple's app stores but also Google's fledging Chrome web store.

Mozilla's Labs has delivered the first developer release of its Web Application project. The goal is to serve up web-based apps for any device and any browser.

The first build includes a spec to describe a web application, a set of new browser APIs that includes the ability for a website to "install" itself in a browser, and documentation on how to build what Mozilla calls a free or paid "directory of applications".

In coming weeks, Mozilla plans to follow up with more browser- and device-friendly developments.

This will include "a deeply integrated 'in browser' experience" with find, install, launch use, and manage flow; synchronization of web apps to your mobile device; support for native browser controls, and integration with the operating system; and support for widgets and notifications.

Mozilla's project is a strike back at the notion that mobile and web apps should be based on APIs that are device or platform specific and served up from walled shops.

It's a philosophy lamented by web-daddy Tim Berners-Lee, who called out Facebook, LinkedIn, and Friendster for helping kill the ubiquitous web by using this model to lock-up data behind their walls.

Supposed bastion of web openness Google recently jumped on the train by rolling out a web app store that only works with its Chrome browser.

It's Apple, though, that has really caused problems, popularizing – among hardware companies, service providers, and business and consumer startups – the whole notion of an online store that serves up paid applications to a particular device.

Mozilla's Web Applications model takes development in a different direction. The open sourcers state a Web App store built using its architecture should exclusively host applications built on HTML5, CSS, Javascript, and other "widely implemented open standards in modern browsers - to avoid interoperability, portability and lock-in issues."

The idea is to be able to things like launch a Web Application with a single click or share your contacts with Web Applications using any device or browser.

Jay Sullivan, Mozilla vice president of mobile, announcing the project in May 2010, singled out the Apple model as being opposed to what Mozilla has in mind. Developers want app ubiquity for their software, he said.

"Web developers are expressing interest in an app store model for the Web that would enable them to get paid for their efforts without having to abandon Web development in exchange for proprietary silos, each with their own programming language and SDK, variable and sometimes opaque review processes, and limited reach," Sullivan said. ®

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