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Mozilla's 'Boot to Gecko' morphs into Firefox OS

Debut of new mobile OS: Brazil 2013

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Mozilla has announced details of its forthcoming mobile OS built on web technologies, henceforth to be known as Firefox OS and aimed at the "billions of users" who will soon flood the shallow end of the feature pool.

The new OS will be based on Mozilla's "Boot to Gecko" project, named after the Firefox browser's HTML rendering engine. On Firefox OS devices, every phone feature – including not just games and apps, but also calling and messaging – will be an HTML5 application.

Mozilla says the new OS does away with unnecessary middleware layers between the web experience and the underlying hardware, making it ideally suited for low-end smartphones.

"As billions of users are expected to come online for the first time in the coming years, it is important to deliver a compelling smartphone experience that anyone can use," Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs said in a statement.

Two Chinese manufacturers, ZTE and TCL Communications Technology, have signed on to manufacture the first Firefox OS handsets, to be powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon system-on-a-chip (SoC) processors. TCL's kit will be marketed under the Alcatel One Touch brand.

A number of global telecom companies have announced support for the effort, including Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Telenor. Brazilian customers will be the first to get their mitts on the devices when they launch in 2013 under Telefónica's Vivo brand.

Mozilla isn't the first to float the concept of an OS based on web technologies. Google offers a boot-to-browser experience with Chrome OS, and before it faded into the sunset HP/Palm's WebOS encouraged developers to use HTML and JavaScript to build apps.

While Chrome OS devices come in traditional notebook and PC form factors, Firefox OS will focus on tablets and handsets. And unlike WebOS, Firefox OS apps will be strictly web-based, with no SDK for native C/C++ development.

Mozilla says it and its partners are committed to ensuring that Firefox OS is fully open. The OS itself will be open source software, and Mozilla has submitted a reference specification of the necessary web APIs to the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) for standardization.

Whether that openness will be enough to attract developers remains to be seen. Mobile development solely using web technologies has been a tough sell so far. When Apple unveiled the first iPhone in 2007, developers were told that web technologies and the Safari browser were all they needed to build apps. The more than 650,000 native iPhone apps currently available in the iTunes store would suggest otherwise. ®

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