What Is This ‘Boot to Gecko’ Business?

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No, this article doesn’t involve any talking lizards trying to sell you car insurance.

Gecko is an open-source layout engine developed by Mozilla and used in the Firefox web browser and many other open source software projects. One of its main purposes is supporting open Internet standards, and pushing the web forward.

You’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with booting my mobile device? To answer that we simply have to look toward Google’s Chrome OS which runs on “Chrome Books”. These ultra-light notebook computers essentially have an operating system that provides hardware access to the device’s components, and an Internet connected web browser that you use as your GUI.

Boot 2 Gecko (B2G) isn’t a copy of Chrome OS, rather, it’s a radical “new” concept that abstracts away the web browser and gives you a more “traditional” mobile experience. The B2G concept isn’t particularly “new”, it’s been floating around in some shape or form since the days of Netscape Communicator.

Applications

b2g contacts

Unlike Chrome OS, phones and tablets running B2G won’t look much different than those that are available today. Instead, the differences are under the hood. Rather than developing apps in C++, Java, Objective C, XAML, or other languages, apps developers will simply write their apps using HTML5, CSS3, and ECMA Script (JavaScript).

Developing for the web is significantly easier than writing apps for today’s smartphones and tablets, and web apps are cross-browser, cross-platform, and (if built right) can scale to different screen resolutions. What’s more, there’s an added layer of security built in to web applications: they don’t have direct access to the underlying hardware like apps do, they have to talk through APIs. (Okay, in defense of traditional apps, most of the time they have to use APIs, but developers can code around them. The APIs are there for convenience more than security.)

Skinning and Theming

We recently talked about skins and themes, and how it’s not too difficult to give your device a face-lift — with the right launcher. Unfortunately, current methods don’t extend much beyond the launcher, notification bar and shade, and the lock screen. Any apps that are to be skinned pretty much have to be custom written to be “theme aware”.

b2g messages

Using web technologies, a user can apply a new “skin” just by using a new CSS file. Can you imagine the freedom themers would have and all the cool designs they could create?! Since every app on B2G would be written in HTML5 and presumably use the same framework of markup tags, a skin created in this manner would instantly be applied to every app on the device.

Apps

How does a web developer deploy their application to B2G? They don’t! According to the B2G FAQ, by default web apps will be accessible from the phone just like any other website. If a developer wants to make their app “installable” to the homescreen, they can add an “open web app manifest” to their app — but as of this writing, that API isn’t yet finished.

Oh, and you don’t need to worry about being always connected for these apps to work. HTML5 allows for “offline” apps including data storage in one of a couple different database formats. Once you’ve “installed” the app, it can be available whether you’re online or not.

Will this simply be the “Firefox OS”?

b2g phone

Yes and no. B2G isn’t simply a browser on top of a driver-set like Chrome OS appears to be. Rather, it’s a complete mobile environment in which apps — both built-in and 3rd party — are programmed using web standards rather than proprietary programming languages.

Web development is arguably much easier to pick up than app development, and once you know how to do it, you can write for any operating system, platform, or browser. Apps written using web technologies are more accessible and are available to more people than traditional mobile apps.

This is exiting news, and we at Pocketnow can’t wait to see the OS mature to a point where we can get it on a phone and start playing around with it! Who knows, you might even be able to get a Pocketnow skin!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.