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Mozilla building mobile OS to battle Chrome

Google's Chrome OS might be looking a bit tarnished to some after the makers of Firefox reveal plans to create an operating system based on the same engine that powers its browser.

Mozilla revealed preliminary plans today to take the Gecko engine that drives its Firefox browser and turn it into an open-source operating system that will eventually work on phones and tablets.

Called Boot to Gecko, it is known that the source code will be released to the public "in real-time," wrote Andreas Gal, a Mozilla researcher. Gecko is the rendering engine that powers Firefox and the e-mail client Thunderbird. By contrast, while Google's Android mobile operating system is open source, the main development work on it does not become available until after Google has green-lit its publication--sometimes not until months afterward.

"We will do this work in the open, we will release the source in real-time, we will take all successful additions to an appropriate standards group, and we will track changes that come out of that process. We aren't trying to have these native-grade apps just run on Firefox, we're trying to have them run on the web," Gal said in a forum post. Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice president of technical strategy, said that the Boot to Gecko apps won't use the Android SDK but instead run new and current Web app APIs

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He also identified four areas for development. One is new Web APIs, which means building "prototype APIs for exposing device and OS capabilities to content." This is how the operating system would support current essential mobile features such as telephony, SMS, cameras, USB, Bluetooth, and near-field chips. A second area for development is to build a privilege model, which is a key security feature for ensuring that new features are "safely exposed to pages and applications," he said.

Boot to Gecko will include some low-level Android code for kernel and driver support so that it can run on Android devices. This does not exist yet, and porting it to a new system could prove to be extremely challenging. Then there is the final area of development--that of applications. The idea behind Boot to Gecko is to create a system where native Web apps can run just as well as the native apps for iOS do on that device.

Shaver added that the company is looking at Tegra 2 devices because they offer hardware acceleration of open audio and video formats.

For people who want to get a stronger idea of what Boot to Gecko will amount to, Gal noted that its "starting point" is a device running Firefox for Android as its homescreen, with some custom APIs thrown in. He also admitted in that post that there is an "ultimate goal" to the project, that of "breaking the stranglehold of proprietary technologies over the mobile device world."

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