Mozilla's Boot to Gecko: A Windows Phone OS competitor or something else?

Mozilla is working on a new mobile-centric OS via its Boot to Gecko project. How will this end up competing with Microsoft?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

A team that's part of the Mozilla Project (the folks who brought us Firefox) is building a new mobile-centric operating system via a project they're calling "Boot to Gecko" (B2G). The new OS is designed to take on Google's Android, Apple iOS and Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system, according to the team behind it.

The B2G team is using the core Android kernel plus some Android drivers as a starting point, and then building an OS that will "boot to the Web," they have said.

Will this keep the Boot to Gecko team out of the IP hot water that other Android vendors are facing? Unlikely, said IP activist and blogger Florian Mueller.

"Android currently faces the worst intellectual property issues any software ever had in the history of this industry. Using any Android building blocks seems risky, but Mozilla is also unlikely to safely walk.through the patent minefield with any code of its own. It probably won't be able to give assurances to device makers either way," Mueller told me, via e-mail today.

IP concerns aside, where, exactly, will this B2G operating system fit? Is this Mozilla's attempt to build something like Google's Chrome OS (a Linux kernel with the Chrome browser welded on top that is optimized for Web browsing)? Is it an extension of the Mozilla Webian Shell -- a stripped-down browser that allows Web-app access only and runs on top of existing operating systems like Linux, Windows and Lion? It's hard to tell from the early B2G information on the Mozilla.Dev.Platform thread.

I'm also wondering whether B2G will be more of a Windows competitor than a Windows Phone OS one, given that Microsoft is believed to be moving toward making full-fledged Windows its smartphone platform (though not likely until 2013 with Windows Phone 9, at best). Windows, not Windows Phone OS, also is Microsoft's current and future tablet OS.

Or maybe Microsoft will be making use of its Menlo and/or Service OS technologies from Microsoft Research by the time B2G is available.

As a quick refresher, Menlo is/was a mobile operating system project which supposedly was a stepping stone toward putting full-fledged Windows on phones. The idea behind Menlo was to replace the Embedded Compact kernel inside the Windows Phone operating system with a Windows NT-based one. Microsoft researchers shared information about a Menlo v. 1 device a year ago.

ServiceOS (formerly known as Gazelle, which was formerly known as MashupOS) is a "multi-principal OS-based browser."  Via ServiceOS, a “master copy of a user’s applications resides in the cloud and cached on her end devices,” according to a Microsoft Research abstract explaining the project. “The ServiceOS project aims to address many challenges faced by our Windows Phone platform, post Windows 8 platform, the browser platform, and Office platform,” the abstract added.

From what the B2G team has shared so far, where do you see the coming new Mozilla operating system competing with Microsoft and its myriad mobile operating system platforms?

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