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Remember when Apple introduced the iPhone and insisted there was no need to let developers write third party apps in native code because they could just write web apps? Yeah, that didn’t work out so well and it didn’t take long for Apple to offer a software developer kit, launch an App Store, and change the face of mobile computing.

But that was a few years ago, and HTML5 and other web technologies have come a long way in blurring the lines between what you can do with a native app and what you can do with a web app. In fact, web pages can now access you’re phone’s hardware to do things like track your location, automatically rotate when you move the screen, or record audio or video. So maybe it’s time to take another look at the web app-only idea. At least that’s the approach Mozilla seems to be taking.

The folks behind the popular Firefox web browser have announced a new project called Boot to Gecko, or B2G. The idea is to build an operating system designed to run web apps and only web apps. It will be based on the same operating system kernel as Android, but B2G won’t run Android apps. Instead Mozilla hopes to build tools that allow third party developers to access the phone’s telephone, camera, USB, Bluetooth and other hardware from web apps.

The whole thing will be built on open web standards — which makes sense coming from a company known for making web browsers. If the web succeeds as a platform, so does Mozilla.

Right now there are still a few key factors that make it difficult to operate in a web-app only environment, as early users of Google Chromebooks are discovering. While the latest web standards make it possible to cache some online content for offline use, if you’re using a Samsung Series 5 or Acer AC700 Chrome OS laptop, there may come a time when you board an airplane, enter a subway, or go somewhere else that you simply don’t have internet access. And if you haven’t had the foresight to cache some music, documents, or other files, your device may become useless.

Of course, that’s true for a lot of today’s phones as well. While Google Maps for Android recently added support for downloading maps for offline viewing, I noticed in a subway the other day that I couldn’t get transit directions without an internet connection even though I’d already downloaded a map of the area. I have to wonder though, if that kind of experience would be even more common on a device running B2G or another operating system based primarily on web apps.

On the other hand, Mozilla is one of the few companies that might have the expertise to push the boundaries of web development and the clout to get developers to hop on board. So maybe we’ll see new and innovative solutions for offline/online access to web apps. We’re already seeing plenty of web apps which load just as quickly and which are just as responsive as native apps on phones or computers with reasonably fast internet connections.

Right now B2G appears to be in the early planning stages. But it’s definitely a project worth keeping an eye on. Mozilla will release source code as the project progresses, and I get the feeling that while we may eventually see phones shipping with B2G, it’s just as possible that the whole thing is big experiment meant to spur development of web apps in general. It may be an OS meant for web developers and open source enthusiasts more than the general public.

via Business Insider

Brad Linder

Brad Linder is editor of Liliputing and Mobiputing. He's been tinkering with mobile tech for decades and writing about it since...

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