Mozilla has a "modest proposal" about smartphones and it's simply stated. "Dump the operating system. All of them."
But unlike the famous essay by British satirist Jonathan Swift, Mozilla isn't fooling around. And at Mobile World Congress, the non-profit creator of the Firefox browser and its partner, the Spanish telecom giant Telefonica, showed just how serious they are.
The companies unveiled details for a smartphone platform that has the merest sliver of an OS, a small Linux kernel and other low-level elements, which act mainly to support device drivers and to launch the Gecko rendering engine, the heart of Mozilla's Firefox. Coupled with a growing array of new APIs, and a user interface dubbed Gaia, the platform can fully control the phone and its features without the complexity of a conventional OS.
Boot to Gecko was unveiled in June 2011. But with Telefonica and Qualcomm on board, it moves out of theory's self-contained world, into the real world of product and business development. Jonathan Nightingale, Mozilla's senior director of Firefox engineering, says he's often heard the criticism, "Why try to create a new platform, especially given the entrenched power of Android and iOS?"
"It's not a 'new platform,'" he says. "Because the Web isn't new. And the Web is already powering a lot of what people like today in Android and iOS apps."
Mozilla announced a companion project: Creating an online app store called Mozilla Marketplace. The Marketplace, which is drawing heavily from Mozilla's expertise with its online portal for offering Firefox plug-ins, is now open to developer submissions. Sometime later this year, it will open its virtual doors to the public.
Telefonica's drive is being spearheaded by Telefonica Digital, a unit charged explicitly with developing, exploiting, and commercializing new business opportunities in the so-called "digital economy." TD is working closely with cellular chipmaker Qualcomm to support the platform, and at MWC was demonstrating prototype phones based on a Qualcomm reference design. According Nightingale, TD has concluded that it can bring to market an "open Web device" for one-tenth the cost of an iPhone.