Mozilla to take on the cross-platform app challenge

Mozilla is facing an uncertain future. Its problem: basing a business (even a non-profit one) on being the alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is no longer sensible, given that Apple and Google are now doing this too, and even Microsoft is now investing in HTML 5. I discussed these issues in more detail here.

So what is Mozilla to do? Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker has posted about a possible new approach, based on being the alternative to Apple for apps. She lists some of the problems with the current “app experience”. Apps are device-specific, require permission at many levels, and a few App Store owners (mainly Apple but also Google) control the business model and customer relationships.

Mozilla is proposing what I presume is a new app platform, which will be cross-platform and cross-device. Instead of discovering apps in a single app store, she envisages multiple providers and the ability to find apps in the same way we find web content.

In other words, if the old Mozilla was about freedom from Microsoft and allowing web technology to progress, the new Mozilla might be about freedom from Apple and allowing app technology to progress.

It is a bold vision and one that in principle would be welcome. That said, Mozilla cannot change the control Apple has over its platform, and its insistence that apps are installed only through its own App Store. Maybe she has in mind a cross-platform toolkit, or browser-based apps, or some combination.

Another snag is that whereas there was widespread dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer back in 2004 when Firefox was launched, this is not the case with Apple and its app platform today. Apple’s App Store system undoubtedly has a dark side, but the user experience is good and developers are making money, some of them at least. Apple’s control over app installation and the constraints imposed on what apps can do are also good for security.

Nevertheless, having looked at a number of cross-platform mobile toolkits, from PhoneGap to Appcelerator Titanium to Adobe AIR, I can see both the significance of this kind of development and that there is plenty of scope for improvement.

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2 comments to Mozilla to take on the cross-platform app challenge

  • swill

    If there exsits a browser that can be used in different system and different device, Wow, how big its customers will be. Only one browser is enought.No other various browser such as baidu browser, maxthon or Avant browser.
    When will this come true? At least IE firefox and chrome will be there some a long time from the current circumstances

  • Siegfried Niedinger

    My guess is that the vision is to serve mobile apps like web pages are served in a browser. I think Mozilla had similar ideas with XUL (https://developer.mozilla.org/En/XUL). XAML from Microsoft was a similar idea with Silverlight, but Microsoft did not see the crossplatform potential of the technology.

    Then came HTML5.. Can HTML5 serve mobile apps over the web? HTML5 currently requires a browser or a third party environment. (like PhoneGap app deployment)

    What is needed is a cross platform environment that is common and standard on all mobile platforms to interpret HTML5 for cross platform compatibility.

    Perhaps adapt current ‘browser engines’ on mobile devices to run HTML5 apps like native apps?