Mozilla's Boot to Gecko: A Mobile OS that could succeed

Boot to Gecko is a universal-platform OS that could theoretically drive futuristic desktops

Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox browser, hopes to revolutionize the modern operating system with Boot to Gecko, a universal-platform OS primary aimed at mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets that could theoretically drive futuristic desktops as well.

The key word here is theoretically. I'm no developer, but Boot to Gecko -- the "complete, standalone operating system for the open Web," as it's described on the project's site -- sounds huge and ambitious. Here's a peek, in my best non-developer language:

Boot to Gecko would take the functionality of a mobile device -- like the ability to make phone calls, send text messages, take pictures, connect to other devices via USB ports or Bluetooth -- and transform those into a programming language that, with its safety-minded "privilege model," can be securely read by the Web. This is the same principle behind the easy-to-digest HTML5, the new streamlined way to build websites without reliance on "older" tech like Adobe Flash, which doesn't work on iPads or iPhones.

Then, because Mozilla doesn't yet have its own mobile OS to play with, Boot to Gecko will use very basic elements of Android OS -- just the kernel and boot drivers; the things that'll make Boot to Gecko testable, so that someday, it may be able to exist outside of Google's walls.

From there, apps built with Boot to Gecko could theoretically be accessed on any Web-connected device and eliminate the disappointment and frustration that comes with finding a great app ... then learning it's iPhone-only.

The comparison between Boot to Gecko and Chrome OS is apt, but Mozilla has something Google doesn't: singularity. As of now, Chrome OS has been foolishly limited to netbooks -- a totally dead technology -- because Google didn't want to cannibalize its other mobile OS.

Sure, Android works on a bunch of different smartphones and tablets -- unlike Apple's iOS, which only works on Apple products -- but Android's open-mindedness has led to messy fragmentation. Meanwhile, one of the reasons the iPad has dominated the tablet market is because Android does such a bad job on tablets.

Either way, Android apps only work on Android devices, whereas the philosophy behind Boot to Gecko is that developers should make apps that work on all devices.

It's a lofty goal; one that will presumably take a very long time to accomplish, and one that'll be fraught with backlash from closed-door companies like Apple. But because Boot to Gecko is entirely Web-based, even silver-tongued Apple would have a hard time justifying the shutdown of entire websites just because they compete with Apple's native apps. That means, if this project sees the light of day, Mozilla could have a game-changer and game-winner on its hands.

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)
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