July 2, 2012 at 8:24 PM ET
Mozilla, which makes the popular Firefox browser, has announced that it and several partners will be launching a new mobile OS in 2013 based on the same Web standards that make the desktop browser go. The project, originally called Boot2Gecko, will debut as Firefox OS.
The idea has been simmering for some time, and there have even been workable prototypes. But by establishing a launch window and signing up some serious partners, Mozilla has indicated that the new OS is no longer just a hobby.
Firefox OS for mobile will be based entirely on HTML5 standards, which is to say that, in a way, every app and tool will be a kind of rich Web page. But that oversimplifies the case, as HTML5's toolset has already proven to be capable of creating all kinds of rich and powerful Web apps. And as it is a public, well-established set of standards, the OS would be more open and accessible than Android, which was created with the idea of being open and accessible.
Your camera, contacts, text messages, and so on would in fact all run within HTML5 frameworks, which sounds strange until you consider how full-featured and powerful existing Web apps are, for example Google Docs and Dropbox.
ZTE and TCL are Mozilla's hardware partners: two Chinese manufacturers that aren't as high-profile as the likes of Motorola or Samsung, mainly because they focus on the large emerging and low-cost smartphone markets. And indeed, that is also the goal of Firefox mobile OS; it won't be as full-featured as iOS or Android, but it will be complete, open, and easy to deploy, with no restrictive licensing agreements or revenue sharing with companies like Apple. That'll be attractive for carriers and companies looking to minimize cost and fuss.
The mobile OS will launch in early 2013 in Brazil, but should come to Sprint in the United States some time after that.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.