Is Mozilla’s App Marketplace a panacea for multi-platform businesses?

February 8, 2012

Android, Linux, WebOS, QNX and iOS–they're all in competition for our loyalty.

By choosing to adopt one of these platforms for our personal use or on an organization-wide basis, we're not only choosing a mobile computing ecosystem to work with, we’re also limiting both ourselves and our employees from leveraging the power of applications that are found outside the confines of the platform's walled garden.

Mozilla, a non-profit organization best known for it's Firefox web browser and Thunrderbird email client, hopes to change this with the introduction of their own App Marketplace.

Untied to any specific platform or operating system or web browser, Mozilla's vision of the future of mobile application is one that courses with blood drawn from the heart of the Internet; developed using a mission-specific app web runtime that will blur the lines of distinction between what we've traditionally understood as a web app by adopting many of the best practices already being employed in the development of many native mobile applications in use on Apple, Android and Blackberry hardware.

TabTimes spoke to Mozilla's Social & Communications Officer David Ascher about how the company is bringing the Internet and mobile apps together, and how, ultimately, this is just another part of the web's evolution.

Mozilla App Marketplace = Web…4.0?

"The web is a thing that's designed to be redesigned", explains Ascher. "We're trying to teach the web about what makes apps so awesome. The way we're doing that is by building this thing called the Web Runtime.

“It's not Firefox. It's not Webkit. It's not any of those things. It's the notion that the technologies that we've built the web upon can also be applied to do other things."

In this case, those “other things” will allow web-based content design using standards such as JavaScript and HTML5 to function as standalone applications, with or without the presense of an Internet connection on mobile hardware, or within the confines of a web browser on a desktop or laptop computer.

In order to make these newweb apps easy to locate, purchase and use, Mozilla plans to offer them to users via their own App Marketplace.

While the business model may sound similar to that employed by Apple, Google and RIM’s mobile app-download services, there is one significant difference that developers, CIOs and end users should be aware of. With Mozilla's model, platform is a non-issue.

In order to develop an app and bring it to market or design it specifically for in-house use, there will be no need to navigate the complex approval channels such as those seen with the iTunes App Store or Blackberry App World.

According to Ascher, the main gatekeeper criteria for acceptance into Mozilla's App Marketplace will be that the app works as advertised and poses no threat to its potential users.

In this regard, Mozilla’s model is similar to Microsoft’s very open-minded, HTML5-friendly app-dev model for Windows 8, although Microsoft does have a built-in approval layer.

A titanic sea shift for end users?

For end users, this model offers the benefit of never having to worry about working with a compatible platform again.

If you purchase an application for use with home computer, it will also be accessible for use on your work computer, smartphone and tablet. Should a user opt to switch from using a Blackberry Playbook to an iPad or an iPhone to an Android smartphone, there will be no need to repurchase the app for use on the new platform—or worse—to settle for an application that works in a similar fashion to the old one.

The notion that the app you purchase or download will be available for use no matter what device you access it from is a potential monumental shift in tablet/mobile computing.

What's the downside to Mozilla's App Marketplace?

While all of this sounds fabulous, it's worth noting that Mozilla's dedication to open computing won't allow for companies to deploy proprietary, group- or user-specific applications. Anyone will be welcome to download anything from their app store, provided doing so breaks no laws.

While this could be viewed as a deal breaker by security conscious CIOs, this same dedication to openness does provide a means for enterprise organizations to ensure that proprietary applications only end up in the hands of the workforce they were intended for.

In addition to providing anyone who wants to build their own apps for for Mozilla's app platform at no charge, Mozilla will also offer the source code required for individuals and organizations to construct their own private iteration of Mozilla's App Marketplace: A move that could effectively allow an organization to construct their own private app depository, thus limiting the availability of their mobile apps solely to those authorized to use them.

Those interested in seeing what Mozilla's App Market place can offer their organization's mobile workforce needn't wait much longer as Mozilla began talks with a number of preimer and marquee content partners late last year.

The Mozilla App Marketplace is set to make a soft launch debut (at which point we’ll have screenshots and hopefully video of it in action) at this year's Mobile World Congress, with a full public launch by Q2, 2012. 

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