Mozilla Admits Building ‘Boot to Gecko’ iOS, Android Competitor

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Ready for something like Mozilla’s Firefox on your mobile phone? Okay, you can already get that if you’re an Android user. So how about something like Firefox running in its own Mozilla-crafted mobile operating space?

Heads up Apple and Google, it sounds like the company that wrapped a fox around a globe (and a browser around much of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer market share) is throwing its hat (or would that be foxtail?) into the mobile operating system arena.

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That’s right, non-profit org Mozilla says it’s building an open-source mobile OS, and—okay, forget the fox motif, and think Geico instead (except without the insurance company’s involvement). Yep, Mozilla currently calls it “Boot to Gecko,” or B2G. That’s its codename, anyway, and it’s derived from Mozilla’s open-source “Gecko” layout engine, already used in several other Mozilla apps (including Firefox).

Will it really compete with the iPhone, Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7? That’s what Mozilla researcher Andreas Gal’s saying, claiming the company wants “to take a bigger step now, and find the gaps that keep web developers from being able to build apps that are—in every way—the equals of native apps built for the iPhone, Android, and WP7.”

Fighting words, for sure. As are these (also from Gal):

Mozilla believes that the web can displace proprietary, single-vendor stacks for application development.  To make open web technologies a better basis for future applications on mobile and desktop alike, we need to keep pushing the envelope of the web to include—and in places exceed—the capabilities of the competing stacks in question…

To that end, we propose a project we’re calling Boot to Gecko to pursue the goal of building a complete, standalone operating system for the open web. It’s going to require work in a number of areas.

Mozilla says it wants to build new web APIs (prototypes that would expose devices to features related to telephony, including SMS, camera, USB, bluetooth, and NFC), craft a secure “privilege model” to appropriately contain said features, and even prototype “a low-level substrate for an Android-compatible device.”

You can also expect the company to “do this work in the open,” release the source code “in real-time,” and run it all through a standards org, says Mozilla, assuring that “We aren’t trying to have these native-grade apps just run on Firefox, we’re trying to have them run on the web.”

B2G’s just getting started, of course—this isn’t some super-secret project that’s been in the offing for years, ergo the company’s open-information angle from the get-go. Mozilla says it’s talking about it now in particular because it wants to draft “expertise from all over Mozilla” as well as “from people who aren’t yet part of Mozilla.”

It’ll be an uphill boulder-roll, for sure, but it’s pretty cool to see a non-profit ramping up to take a swing at crafting a mobile OS that’s ostensibly even less proprietary than Google’s so-called “open-source” Android OS.

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Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.