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Mozilla Marketplace Prepares To Sell Web Apps

Maker of Firefox looks beyond the browser, plans to challenge Apple, Google, and Microsoft by introducing an app store of its own.

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With the coming of the Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona, Spain, Mozilla plans to challenge Apple, Google, and Microsoft by introducing an app store of its own.

The non-profit organization behind Firefox and a variety of other open-source projects intends to allow developers to register app names in advance of the opening of the Mozilla Marketplace later this year.

"We are enabling the Web to be the marketplace, giving developers the opportunity to play on the biggest playing field imaginable," said Mozilla chief of innovation Todd Simpson in a statement.

The Mozilla Marketplace aims to be a device- and operating system-agnostic online store for applications created with open-Web technologies, such as HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS. Mozilla hopes its online market will become a viable alternative to proprietary native-apps stores and vendor-specific Web app stores such as Google's Chrome Web Store.

[ Is a mobile app necessary for businesses? Read An App Isn't A Mobile Strategy. ]

Web apps are websites that can be installed on mobile or desktop devices, thanks to a manifest file that contains the additional metadata necessary to support features such as offline functionality. Web apps exist in part because companies like Google, and subsequently Mozilla, recognized that native apps, because of their icons on devices, were more "discoverable" than websites, which tended to be buried behind browser menus and in visually cluttered bookmark lists.

Mozilla is also set to challenge the major online companies, including Facebook, as an identity provider. Rather than associating Web apps with devices, Mozilla will be linking downloaded apps to online identities--specifically, email addresses--so that one's apps will be available on any Web-connected device.

When it was introduced last summer, Mozilla's online identity system was called BrowserID. On Tuesday, Mozilla renamed the service Mozilla Persona.

The Persona system is distributed, meaning that websites other than those operated by Mozilla will be able to authenticate users. There is some centralization, however: Mozilla will be maintaining logs of websites to which Persona users have provided email addresses.

Mozilla also is working on a project called Boot to Gecko (B2G), a Web-centric operating system based on Linux for mobile and desktop devices. Mozilla sees B2G as an alternative to proprietary operating systems and application development stacks.

Whether Mozilla's pursuit of openness continues to resonate with Internet users remains to be seen. Internet users rallied behind Firefox in its battle to dethrone Microsoft's Internet Explorer. But lately Google Chrome has won the loyalty of many former Firefox fans. Mozilla also continues to face difficulties in the mobile market: Apple's developer rules don't allow Firefox on iOS devices and Firefox for Android now has to contend with the beta version of Google Chrome for Android.

Even if Mozilla's crusade has been made more complicated by vigorous competition, it's comforting to know that at least one browser maker can still use the word "open" and mean it.

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