Mobile World Congress, Boot to Gecko and the unknown beast called HTML5

Last week I was a bit more silent than usual (some said I appeared to be human rather than a news/tech/kittens/puppies feed). The reason was that I was at mobile world congress in Barcelona, Spain and got roped into doing booth duty on top of my presentation there.

Mothereffing Boot to Gecko!

The main reason though was that I finally got my hand on a boot to gecko phone and not the best horses or king’s men could stop me from showing it to anyone who was even marginally interested.

The presentation that made the rounds was the one on Engadget:

So before going back to my MWC experience, here are the quick points about this:

  • Boot to Gecko is a fully open phone stack
  • It has a Linux core and its Gaia interface is written in HTML5 – so there is no need to learn any Java or C++ to write apps for it or customise the OS itself
  • The phone features a full telephony and messaging stack
  • It also runs WebGL with 60fps smoothly
  • By the end of the year Telefonica want to release a phone running it and we are in talks with others to do the same (I am off to Hannover on Wednesday for Cebit for that)
  • As the OS is incredibly light-weight it boots in 12 seconds:

In other words: it kicks ass and it allows me as a web developer to build things for phones with the same technologies that I build web sites in. The interesting thing was that this option doesn’t transpire that easily to mobile developers.

HTML5 concerns of mobile developers and entrepreneurs

Whilst showing off mobile Firefox on various tablets and mobile phones I got a lot of feedback and questions about HTML5 from people. They were incredibly interesting as we assume as web developers that mobile HTML5 development is easier – as you know the browser that is in use if you target a certain phone. However, I realised that web development and mobile development are still very much different worlds. We had the same experience during a discussion round at the WIP Jam. I was lucky enough to partner with Wolfram Kriesing of uxebu to answer the concerns of mobile developers. Some of those made it into my talk.

  • When is HTML5 ready for use? This was a very big one. Coming from a world of IDEs, SDKs and builds this is a predictable question but as web developers we know that our tech is constantly moving (I am writing a big post/talk on that soon)
  • How can I protect my code? A common concern was that HTML5/CSS and JS are open and can be simply copied. So a lot of entrepreneurs wondered how they can stop people from doing that. My advice was to go to the Android store and search for “Angry” and see that the same happens in native code. The energy you put into protecting your code just to find it ripped you might as well put into creating a great user experience and let your lawyers worry about plagiarism.
  • Do you need to be online to use HTML5 games? It was amazing how unknown the local storage options of HTML5 are. Again, I showed the native Angry Birds seasons which loads each and every level and thus is pointless offline. It is not a problem of the technology, it means you implemented it wrongly.
  • What tools do I use to build HTML5? Another big one. Whilst as web developers we are very happy to go into the code in a text editor, it seems alien to a lot of developers out there. Which means that tooling is a very necessary task for us HTML5 aficionados right now and it is cool to see uxebu and cloud9ide going there.

Reacting to question and presenting on HTML5

During the WIP Jam at MWC Joe Stagner and me gave a 1.5 hour “workshop” on HTML5 and sat on the table all day answering questions (and handing out a lot of shirts and stickers). I recorded our talk and – despite a few technical issues with the projector and the room giving a good impression of the boiler room of the Titanic (32 degrees) it went really well:

Slides for HTML5 and friends

Noteworthy is that by using Mortadelo y Filemón in my slides, I made quite a few people happy, so happy actually that @martuishere got me a copy of one of their books (which I had in German when I grew up).

The rocky road ahead

All in all we have quite a rocky road ahead of us if we want to get the mobile world to embrace HTML5. A lot of it is not really technical issues but have to do with attitude and environments. In the past we were lucky as web developers as nobody understood and cared what we did. Now everybody wants to play in our sandbox but they expect laser guided shovels and shiny clean sand that smells of roses rather than getting their fingers dirty diving deep. A big one was comparing HTML5 to native code – something that is limiting web development a lot. Of course a native app is snappier. A formula one car is faster than a hovercraft, but it fails miserably on water. Great web apps should change and adapt to their environments – something that is very uncommon in native code. Funnily enough only developers played with B2G and said it is a bit laggy. Users of phones and managers didn’t realise any difference – actually they asked if it is a windows phone as our Gaia app icons are rectangular rather than rounded squares.

The conference as a whole

All in all I dreaded the conference. It is an overpriced, hyped sales show complete with everything I hate about conferences: booth babes who smile and show a lot of flesh rather than knowledge, tons of printed out marketing material to throw away a day later, amazingly stupid taglines (as reported by The Register with my favourite being “Applying Thought”), bad catering (I more or less lived on omelette sandwiches), the whiff of lots and lots of money being spent all over the place, and a big pile of business cards for me to wade through which could have been quick emails we could have sent each other from our fancy phones (they do have that feature).

That said, some of the people there really made it worth while – most of them I knew beforehand, but I met a lot of locals that I will so come back to.

I love working for Mozilla

The main thing that made it worth while for me to go were my colleagues in Mozilla. The B2G and Mobile Firefox team did not sleep at all getting the demos and the system ready, everybody was switched on 100% of the time and happy to help each other and the people not at the conference did a grand job blogging our exploits (or linking to the open tech we talked about), monitoring the press and answering comments. It was exhausting, taxing and a lot of work to do, but it worked out and it is incredible to see that a conference I thought Mozilla would be very alien at and belittled as “those web guys” got rocked to its core by Boot to Gecko and suddenly a lot more people start believing when we say “the web is the platform”.

View full post on Christian Heilmann

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Announcing Boot to Gecko (B2G) – Booting to the Web

Mozilla recently announced the Boot to Gecko (B2G) Project which is a project towards the goal of building a complete, standalone operating system for the open web.

The aim of B2G

The idea is that open web technologies can supersede single vendor control over application environments, and instead use something that will be open for all and consistent across the board. The first main aim is mobile/tablet devices and to be able in such an environment to give access through web technologies to all the capabilities native applications have.

The project is in a very early stage right now, but we believe in communicating this early and getting as much valuable input, help and suggestions as possible to make this out to be all it can be.

Areas of work

The main areas we see right now that will need a lot of work and input are:

New web APIs
Build prototype APIs for exposing device and OS capabilities to content (Telephony, SMS, Camera, USB, Bluetooth, NFC, etc.)
Privilege model
Making sure that these new capabilities are safely exposed to pages and applications
Prototype a low-level substrate for an Android-compatible device
Choose and port or build apps to prove out and prioritize the power of the system.

Helping out with B2G

Let me re-emphasize that the work with B2G has just begun. As you understand, the possibilities, work and collaboration being needed here is huge, and being open about the whole process, we would love to get your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, practical help or anything else you can think of to make this happen!

Feel free to comment below or add your takes to the Booting to the Web thread. Please read more in the B2G page about what you can do to contribute.

FAQ about B2G

To cover some common ground and questions, here are the Frequently Asked Questions for B2G:

What is Boot to Gecko?

Boot to Gecko (B2G) is an early-stage, exploratory project with the goal of building a complete, standalone operating system for the open web. It is not a product offering, but if successful, could form the basis for one.

When can we expect to see something?

We’re very early in the project, soliciting suggestions and contributions from a lot of people. As we have more specific estimates for different pieces of functionality, they’ll be shared widely.

What is the size of the team working on this project?

It’s very small right now: just 3 people working part time, but we’re looking to ramp up and as an open project we are actively inviting participation of developers, designers, and others from across the Web. We’re seeing lots of excitement and offers of help already, and we’re also obviously leaning heavily on the existing Gecko and Firefox mobile work.

Why are you doing this now?

We believe that the next frontier for Web applications is full device integration, so that Web developers have the same capabilities as those building for OS-specific stacks.

What does it mean for your relationships with Apple, Google, Microsoft?

We don’t expect that it will affect our relationships with other organizations.

Does this replace work that’s already being done on Web APIs for desktop and mobile?

We are already pushing hard on new Web APIs, and have been for some time. We’ll continue to implement and standardize new APIs for Web content while the B2G project ramps up.

How is this different than the Webian Shell project?

The Webian shell is an impressive project even in its early stages. Where Webian is focused on a Web-centric desktop experience, we’re focused on extending the Web to include more of what is traditionally the domain of OS-specific code. We think we can work together on a bunch of things, and we’re looking forward to it.

How is this different from Chrome OS?

We’re aiming at mobile/tablet devices rather than a notebook form factor. This is an early-stage project to expose all device capabilities such that infrastructure like phone dialers can be built with Web APIs, and not only “high level” apps like word processors and presentation software. We will of course be happy to work with the Chrome OS team on standards activities, and indeed to share source code where appropriate.

Are OEMs interested in B2G?

This is an early-stage project. We just got started, so we haven’t had any of those discussions yet. If an OEM shares our vision of a standard and open platform from top to bottom, we’d be happy to work together to get such a platform into the hands of users.

Whose hardware will you support?

We’ll be selecting initial hardware for hackability and general availability, but we haven’t settled on that yet. A Tegra 2 device is likely to be selected, due to its support for VP8 hardware acceleration. Over time we expect that B2G will work on the majority of devices that support modern Android versions.

Will this mean a Firefox Phone?

We don’t have any plans to build or distribute a custom device.

View full post on Mozilla Hacks – the Web developer blog

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