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Samsung teams with Mozilla on next-gen browser engine

Mobe-maker will help port future Firefox tech to ARM

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The Mozilla Foundations is bringing its experimental, next-generation web browser engine to ARM chips and the Android platform, thanks to a partnership with South Korean mobe-maker Samsung.

For the last few years, Mozilla has been working on a new browser engine called Servo, which is being written from the ground up to take better advantage of modern, multi-core processors.

Key to this effort has been Rust, a new low-level programming language designed to make it easier for developers to build parallel-processing applications while avoiding many of the memory management issues that can lead to serious bugs and security faults.

On Wednesday, Mozilla announced that it had enlisted Samsung to help it get Rust and Servo running on the ARM processor architecture, which is used to power the majority of today's mobile phones and tablets.

"Samsung has already contributed an ARM backend to Rust and the build infrastructure necessary to cross-compile to Android, along with many other improvements," Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich wrote in a blog post.

Mobility has been a particular area of focus for Mozilla of late. Entry-level smartphones running its Firefox OS, a new mobile platform based entirely around web technologies, are expected to debut in select markets later this year.

Samsung hasn't been part of those efforts so far, that we know of. The first Firefox OS phones are expected to come from Alcatel, Huawei, LG, and ZTE, and Sony has also been flirting with the technology.

But Samsung is known for keeping lots of irons in the fire – it has released handsets running just about every available mobile OS, at one time or another – so it's no surprise that it should be interested in what Mozilla is doing.

For one thing, Samsung has shown signs of ambivalence toward Android, the OS that currently powers its high-end smartphones, such as the Galaxy S line. Many analysts believe the company is investing heavily in the open source Tizen platform as a hedge against overreliance on Google.

On a broader level, however, Samsung is the leading seller of smartphones today, but it won't maintain that advantage unless it can see what's coming next.

From Mozilla's perspective, what's next are mobile devices based on fast, multi-core, heterogeneous computing architectures, as smartphones and tablets increasingly take on roles that have previously been the exclusive realm of desktop PCs.

"Servo is an attempt to rebuild the Web browser from the ground up on modern hardware, rethinking old assumptions along the way," Mozilla's Eich wrote. "This means addressing the causes of security vulnerabilities while designing a platform that can fully utilize the performance of tomorrow's massively parallel hardware to enable new and richer experiences on the Web."

Eich said that Rust, the programming language being developed in tandem with Servo, reached version 0.6 on Wednesday, and that Mozilla is "racing" to produce a stable version 1.0 in the coming year. At the same time, he said, Mozilla will be putting more resources into developing Servo.

"We, along with our friends at Samsung will be increasingly looking at opportunities on mobile platforms. Both of these efforts are still early stage projects and there's a lot to do yet, so now is a good time to get involved," he said.

Interested parties can download the source code for Rust and Servo from the projects' respective pages on Github. ®

Bootnote

Mozilla isn't alone in thinking today's browsers aren't well suited to multi-core processors. Also on Wednesday, Google's Chromium project announced that it has begun work on Blink, a new rendering engine based on WebKit that's designed to cater better to the Chrome browser's unique multi-process architecture.

Developers who would like to know more or get inolved with that effort are invited to check out the project's homepage.

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