Mozilla dropped Android from Boot-to-Gecko project

Mozilla initially expected to have to use portions of Android, but managed to do without

Mozilla managed to avoid using any parts of Android in the development of its Boot-to-Gecko mobile Web project.

This week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Mozilla announced that Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom plan to build phones based on B2G, a platform that will run all apps on the phone, including basic apps like a phone dialer and SMS client, from the Web. Telefonica said it expects to release a low-cost phone running the technology this year; DT didn't disclose additional details.

When Mozilla first announced the B2G project last July, it said it expected to use parts of Android to compile the platform. But it ultimately didn't have to, said Jonathan Nightingale, senior director of Firefox engineering for Mozilla.

B2G uses some Linux code that includes drivers so that Gecko, the open-source browser platform that Firefox uses, can interact with the screen and other phone components. B2G has no licensing obligations except for using Linux and Gecko, he said.

"We got rid of Android completely," he said. "Why be beholden to any other piece?"

He demonstrated B2G running on a Samsung Galaxy S II. The phone had a dialer, SMS app, video player, photo viewer, browser and other apps. B2G also includes an accelerometer, camera and tilt sensors. Mozilla is at work on an NFC app.

The look and feel of the phone is completely different to one that Telefonica is demonstrating in its booth, Nightingale said. It's an open project so users can customize the user interface as they like.

While Mozilla's demonstration uses the Firefox browser, theoretically another browser developer could build a similar platform. Mozilla is submitting each phone function it creates for B2G to standards bodies, he said. Anyone can take the APIs and build the apps to another browser platform, like Webkit, for instance. That kind of port "shouldn't be hard," he said.

To make up for connectivity issues inherent with using mobile phones, Mozilla built an API that tells a Web page when the phone goes offline, he said. "It's one of the first APIs we put in," he said. That lets the app start queuing up user actions to push them out the next time the phone connects. Also, many apps download to B2G and may never need to access the Internet. For instance, the dialer doesn't require an Internet connection.

Mozilla launched the B2G project in part to make it easier for users to port applications across devices running different OSes. Since developers are increasingly shifting to HTML5 to develop apps, Mozilla realized that "the OS isn't adding a ton of value to the end user. We thought, 'what if we got rid of it and ran web apps on the hardware?'" Nightingale said.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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