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Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Application development

Mozilla sets its site on mobile standardization: Page 2 of 2

Other existing technologies may need only slight modification for this new environment. Eich demonstrated a version of JavaScript developed by Intel, River Trail, that can execute some of the JavaScript code on the GPU (graphics processing unit). This can vastly increase the speed at which JavaScript apps can perform. He ran an animation that, without River Trail, executed on the browser at a rate of 3 frames per second, while with the Parallel JavaScript engine, ran at a much smoother 45 FPS. 

Mozilla itself has a number of projects that could help with its goal. Mozilla employs about 570 employees, and about 1,000 active code committers. 

One project is BrowserID, which uses the browser as a mechanism for verifying the user's identity. Once users verify their email address, that address can be used to log in to different sites, with the browser providing the password automatically. BrowserID works like OpenID, except that the email address, rather than a Web address provides the authentication.

"BrowserID is the lynchpin for open Web apps," Eich said.

Another project is called Boot To Gecko, which Eich demonstrated during his talk, using an Android phone. When he turned the phone on, the device displayed what looked like a typical Android home screen. But this screen was actually the Firefox browser, built on the Gecko rendering engine and OpenGL JavaScript graphics library. All the applications on the device were written using only HTML, CSS and JavaScript. 

Despite this work, Mozilla still faces difficulties in getting handset makers and phone carriers to go along with the approach, Eich admitted. 

"It's still too expensive to develop mobile hardware. The phone's hardware is still a little too expensive, so the companies that build their phones have to lock their users in to vertical silos, and to keep the user relationship to make more money to recoup their investments," Eich said.

Much of Google's Android is open source, so Mozilla engineers can work intimately with the OS in that case. Other platforms, such as Apple's, are more closed. Browser makers would also have to grapple with individual device component drivers, which are usually difficult to work with. 

"For some reason, Apple and Google for Android are not interested in standardizing these device APIs," Eich said. "There is secret sauce from Apple. There is secret sauce in Android to get at these devices." 

Nonetheless, as issues around individual device APIs are raised, such as security, device makers will be forced to disclose the inner workings of their mobile OSes. Mozilla already offers the capability to work with geospatial data, thanks to security issues raised around that technology, and will soon offer more capabilities tied in directly to device based cameras.

"There are no Web standards at hand [for mobile devices]. We're going to change that," he said. "We're going to expose Web APIs in all these devices and standardize them in a fair way, so they can be in all the browsers."