An OS for your browser

Edited by John C. Tanner
15 Dec 2011

The next big growth wave for mobile apps is widely expected to come from the web, via widgets and browsers supporting HTML5.

ABI Research expects that over 2.1 billion mobile devices will have HTML5 browsers by 2016 (compared to 109 million in 2010).

However, according to Mozilla creator of the Firefox browser the one thing missing from all this is an operating system for browser-based web apps.

Which is why the company is developing one.

Mozilla launched it collaborative Boot To Gecko project in July with the aim of developing an OS for both desktop and mobile browsers to run HTML5 apps. "The idea from an engineering point of view is that you turn on your phone and it will boot into the web engine," says Jay Sullivan, VP of products at Mozilla.

The difference between simply running an app in an HTML5 browser and running it on a browser OS, says Sullivan, is that the OS will make a web app look, feel and perform more like a native app.

"For example, you don't want to see the URL bar and the back-and-forth buttons and all the browser chrome you want the app to feel more like a standalone thing," he explains.

It's also a matter of the established user perception of native apps and web apps in terms of value, he adds. "If it feels like it's running on a website there's this feeling that it should be free, but if it feels like an app with one-touch launch and a dedicated simple experience, then it feels like something worth paying for. Right or wrong, that's where we are."

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