Mozilla, Telefonica Promise Open Web Phone

Does the world need another mobile operating system? Boot2Gecko, Mozilla's HTML5 operating system, aims to pry open the mobile Web.
Mobile World Congress Preview: 10 Hot Devices
Mobile World Congress Preview: 10 Hot Devices
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Mozilla's effort to create an open Web operating system received a major endorsement on Monday as Telefonia Digital, a Spanish broadband and telecom provider, disclosed plans to offer phones with Mozilla's software.

Telefonica said it plans to release smartphones this year that rely on the Open Web Devices platform, a Web-based operating system that makes use of Mozilla's HTML5-based Boot2Gecko Project. Most of the world's smartphones today ship with Apple's iOS or Google's Android OS, both of which impose restrictions that affect handset makers and users.

Though Mozilla has posted a video of a hardware reference prototype running its software, the company has not disclosed which hardware maker will be shipping OWD devices. Mozilla says it is currently negotiating with several equipment manufacturers.

OWD hardware is expected to rely on a chipset from Qualcomm, which currently produces a large number of chips for Android devices.

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The initiative has received the endorsement of Adobe, which has had to revised its mobile strategy to focus on HTML5 following its abandonment of Flash for mobile devices. And it appears likely to attract additional partners: Deutsche Telekom has been contributing code to Boot2Gecko, according to Mozilla.

"It has long been our mission to deliver advanced Web technologies that eliminate roadblocks for users and developers," said Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich in a statement. "We did it first with Firefox, and now we're doing it again in creating the first Open Web Devices. By providing the missing links, Mozilla is now unlocking the power of the Web as the platform for creating and consuming rich content everywhere."

One of the goals of OWD is to make smartphones more affordable. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Telefonica Digital's director of product development and innovation Carlos Domingo told CNET that he expects OWD devices to be 10 times cheaper than Apple's iPhone, which costs $199 with a contract or $649 without one for an iPhone 4S.

It remains to be seen how OWD devices will compare with the iPhone in terms of total cost of ownership.

If OWD hardware becomes popular, it will be quite a comeback for Mozilla. The non-profit organization helped make Web-based software a viable alternative to desktop software, but it was caught unprepared as Google introduced its Chrome browser and as the major software platforms shifted their attention to mobile devices.

Mozilla's effort to develop a mobile platform that's free of the sometimes unwelcome oversight of a major company may be appreciated by supporters of open source software. But consumers appear to care more about free as a price point than as a principle, and Android is already pretty inexpensive for handset makers. What's more, Mozilla's old nemesis, Microsoft, is about to make a major push to restore its credibility in the mobile market with the next version of Windows. Add to that the lack of success of the last major Web-based operating system, webOS, and the magnitude of the challenge Mozilla faces becomes clear.

As federal agencies embrace devices and apps to meet employee demand, the White House seeks one comprehensive mobile strategy. Also in the new Going Mobile issue of InformationWeek Government: Find out how the National Security Agency is developing technologies to make commercial devices suitable for intelligence work. (Free registration required.)