Categories: Mozilla Labs

Prototype of an Open Web App Ecosystem

The open Web is a great platform for rich applications. It would be even better if it had additional capabilities to ease discovery, acquisition, installation and use of apps, while also enabling monetization for developers. We designed and built a prototype of a system for open Web apps: Apps built using HTML/CSS/JavaScript that work both on computers and mobile phones, have many of the characteristics that users find compelling about native apps and provide developers with open and flexible distribution options.

Today, we are releasing technical documentation of the proposed system and a developer preview prototype that allows you to install, manage and launch Web apps in any modern desktop or mobile browser (Firefox 3.6 and later, Firefox for mobile, Internet Explorer 8, Chrome 6, Safari 5, Opera 10 and WebKit mobile). This prototype provides a simple mechanism to support paid apps and authentication features to allow apps to log users in upon launch.

The design proposed here provides the following capabilities and enables a new category of what we call “Open Web Apps” — apps that are truly of the Web.

Open Web Apps:

  • Are built using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
  • Can be “installed” to a dashboard within your mobile or desktop Web browser, or to your native OS desktop or mobile home screen.
  • Work in all modern Web browsers, while enabling each browser to compete on app presentation, organization and management user interfaces.
  • Support paid apps by means of an authorization model that uses existing identity systems like OpenID.
  • Support portable purchases: An app purchased for one browser works in other browsers, and across multiple desktop and mobile platforms without repurchase.
  • Can request access to one or more advanced and/or privacy-sensitive capabilities that they would like access to (like geolocation) which the system will mediate, giving the user the ability to opt-in to them if desired.
  • Can be distributed by developers directly to users without any gatekeeper, and distributed through multiple stores, allowing stores to compete on customer service, price, policies, app discoverability, ratings, reviews and other attributes.
  • Can receive notifications from the cloud.
  • Support deep search across apps: Apps can implement an interface that enables the app container (generally the Web browser) to provide the user with a cross-app search experience that links deeply into any app that can satisfy the search.

Check out this demo to see more about our Open Web App prototype:

Please join us in exploring this Open Web App concept. Head over to the Mozilla Labs forum, leave a comment here and follow the Mozilla Labs blog for updates. As with everything Mozilla does, we’re developing this prototype and design for the public benefit in the open and we look forward to making this concept a reality.

Open Web App Ecosystem FAQ

31 comments on “Prototype of an Open Web App Ecosystem”

  1. Jacob Godserv wrote on

    These are cool ideas. It’s just too bad a lot of the goals (like “cross-platform”, and “desktop and mobile”) will never be truly achieved without a lot of work from a developer’s point of view.

    Also, you’ll need to create some sort of demand for the idea of web apps, since none currently exist. (In other words, this might be a bit ahead of its time.) What’s the advantage of having them cling to an account I create, which immediately requires more clicks, vs. just using them on the website, which immediately requires fewer clicks?

    I am happy to see people working on these problems, though. Please, by all means, if you can defeat these long-standing barriers, tear ’em to pieces. 🙂

  2. Ron Amadeo wrote on

    Poor Mozilla. All you guys do anymore is chase Google around. =/

  3. Anonymous wrote on

    Ron, I think you have it backwards. They’ve been chasing Mozilla’s tail lights for years.

  4. Cole wrote on

    Um, anonymous. Google broke out the idea of a Web App Store like over a year ago…

  5. bob wrote on

    re prev comment chasing google around. thats chasing apple around.

    The assumption of every startup and every wanna be project right now comes down to 2 things.
    Apps and social networking.

    I see mozilla positioning to be a tablet OS with this. A really crappy tablet OS. And secondly beyond making an app desktop inside the browser to leverage HTML5 allegedly, this is primarily about paywalls.

    Users are willing to pay for apps, they are not currently willing to pay for access to “websites”. I guess I wish the web-ineers good luck turning that around with “apps”.

    What comes to mind instantly is, how much innovation is being lost in the mass efforts by disparate organizations to copy apple and facebook.

    While you spend all this time and money copying something done already better, you could be innovating yourself. But you’re not. Are you.

  6. Daniel wrote on

    To Bob and other “Chaser” conspiracy theorists:

    Mozilla is not chasing Google OR Apple. What they are chasing is the principles of the Open Web.

    Mozilla doesn’t want to be another walled garden, they want to start the conversation on what a world would look like with web based apps that can be found, purchased, and run on any browser or OS. Mozilla is about standardizing the user and developer experience, something that will make apps flourish and fragmentation disappear. Bob’s tablet OS comment is inherently flawed for that very reason: Mozilla wants the web to run everywhere, and your apps to be accessible from any device, whether it runs Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.

    To Jacob:

    You mentioned the following: “It’s just too bad a lot of the goals (like “cross-platform”, and “desktop and mobile”) will never be truly achieved without a lot of work from a developer’s point of view.”

    Jacob, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. As long as the apps are based on web technologies, developer already have the cross-browser tools they need. Frameworks like MooTools have baked in cross-browser and multi-device support, jQuery has their mobile library, Dojo is working on mobile.

    You all need to open your eyes to the web around you. In 2005, shit even 2008, I could see more of these gripes being relevant, but now they are largely solved problems.

  7. jose fajardo wrote on

    STOP USING THE WORD OPEN!!!! Its stupid and it means nothing in your context!!!

  8. Bobz wrote on


    I work in silicon valley. Every company here is either working on an app store, apps or social networking or all 3. (this includes google) For the mere reason that apple is wildly successful at it, and facebook is wildly successful at it.

    Dont be coy, this has nothing to do with innovation. You are replaying a game that was lost by people who were on the sidelines when it really mattered.

  9. SmallTimeDev wrote on

    This is exciting. I hope it becomes a reality!

  10. Merlin wrote on

    Is there a way to follow this project? I’d like to get an rss information or e-mail notification on new things about this open web apps.. (and a couple of other mozilla labs, but not all of them..)

  11. maurizio de magnis wrote on

    can’t wait to see more!

  12. Hans wrote on

    Since when are they not even using their own browser in screencasts?

  13. Thomas Paine wrote on

    How much of this comes from the Prism project? I have been using, and loving, Prism for years and this seems like the perfect thing to advance it to the next level. In regards to the iPhone I would love to see this expand the underutilized “add to homepage” feature. I see far too many apps that add little functionality to their web components beyond local data storage. I understand that being in the app store lends oneself to more visibility and monetization but your solution would seem to solve both of those problems and adds the benefit of cross platform support without proprietary software.

    Obviously my hopes are a little pie-in-the-sky but here is hoping it achieves all that and more.

  14. Stan wrote on

    Good idea !

    I don’t like the idea of pushing my file @ Google or other.
    But I still like the idea to get the apps in the browser.
    So this is a mid-term that allow me to keep my files, but still work in the Browser.

  15. skierpage wrote on

    If I understand it, all “install” does is communicate with a which is the app repository that remembers what I’ve “installed” and shows the dashboard with a bunch of launcher icons. Would all stores communicate with the user’s chosen repository, or does each store have its own? I tried saving it locally as Web Page, complete, but it doesn’t work.

    I thought the benefit of this system is I can access this dashboard from any browser, but the tech docs say “users’ installed application manifests are stored entirely on their local browsers”. It’s intriguing but confusing.

  16. Kevin Brubeck Unhammer wrote on


    If I understand correctly, the whole _point_ is not to use Firefox so that they can demonstrate how it should work in _all_ browsers.

    And to those who complain about imitation, let me put it simply: if you are good at imitating what works well, you end up creating more cool stuff. All the better for the end-user. And they _are_ adding something “new” to the mix: the standardisation of the concept of App Store, into something that works on all platforms — quite a subversive action compared to Apple…

  17. Joe Shawfield wrote on

    I say Bravo! The announcement of this effort as well as those like the Jquery Mobile Project make me want to party. Irrespective of the particular verbiage or vernacular used to describe the OPEN concept, I am hailing the concept and the efforts that let me develop in standard HTML, Javascript and CSS. I would rather delegate my platform choice to being that of a standard browser, than to delegate to the particular platform specific framework or language specific to a given actual phone type. I dont care if my webapp will be run on a phone, tablet, browser or a tv, 90% of the logic and actions will be the same. I only need to handle the small differences, or better yet let something like JQuery Mobile handle the differences.

    Rock and Roll

  18. Jarvis Meza wrote on

    The new Zune browser is surprisingly good, but not as good as the iPod’s. It works well, but isn’t as fast as Safari, and has a clunkier interface. If you occasionally plan on using the web browser that’s not an issue, but if you’re planning to browse the web alot from your PMP then the iPod’s larger screen and better browser may be important.

  19. dfsds wrote on

    Hello, something like Apps were available before Apple popularized them. Apple is just a good marketer.

  20. Herman wrote on

    Firefox is KING OF BROWSER

  21. Simon wrote on

    Open Source maybe.

    Got a lot of nice people contributing “Add-Ons.”

    But can we spend a little time / resources speeding the freakin browser a bit.
    Runs awfully slow.

    Nice swiss army knife though.

    Keep sponsoring and mentoring great “Open Source” projects.
    The future is inevitable.

    Cuddle up with Google a bit more.

    Nothing “innovative” about a Free App Store.
    But you got the resources to do it and the outcome would be good.
    So go for it.

  22. Simon wrote on

    Oh and stepping out a bit but …
    but see if you can sponsor some Drupal development or events.
    it is a great app and its going strong
    Google has already sponsored some
    and the compliance thing fits.

  23. gregorsamsa wrote on

    This is a great concept, that would overcome the Apple centric view on apps finally. The reason, why everybody is talking about “apps” (and mostly reducing the term to iPhone/iPad) is simply, that apple suceeded in make discovery, download and payment so easy. Why not discover web apps in a way like Mozilla proposes it? The difference to using a web app simply in the browser directly ist in my view simply, that the users want to “posess” something, and let it be only an icon. Therefore the dashboard concept is also great. And posessing and icon is better than posessing a bookmark. Additionally, with the HTML offline functionalities, this icon resembles more a classic application (native) icon anyway.

  24. joe wrote on

    Sorry but I couldnt watch all the –
    “Check out this demo to see more about our Open Web App prototype:”

    as that guys voice put me to sleep..

  25. Kim wrote on

    I don’t know or care what is going on – all I know is that I was in the middle of an email, had uploaded several pictures to it and was ALMOST ready to send when EVERYTHING froze. I ended up losing the different websites that were up and running – why – NOT because of a server problem – no, it was because suddenly Firefox was updating. No, it did not ask me not did it warn me in anyway. I do not appreciate this. Why is it that big business insists on trying to improve what ain’t broke? I sincerely hope this does not happen again. You came pretty well recommended – I hope I can pass this on.

  26. wrote on


    This is about having a standardized platform for distributing extensions (like in Firefox), widgets (like clocks and other simple stuff you can place on your desktop) and apps (like Gmail).

    W3c widgets are just some odd attempt at standardizing the packaging for something. The documentation looks very unclear and way too tl;dr to me so I don’t know if they’re talking about extensions or widgets.

    So, no, you’re wrong and completely lost.

  27. Timothy Metcalfe wrote on

    Those who complain about others already having made something like this: Good for you, now quit your whining and realize that every leader in a particular field must keep up with the competition.

    Not only is Mozilla doing just that, but they seem to be redesigning the idea. At least that’s what I gathered from this presentation. The infrastructure for a web app store when so many add-ons are failing because of lack of funding (Xmarks anybody?), incorporating the simplicity of HTML and the innovation of HTML5, seeking to lead the way in implementing something similar to the App Stores that sprung up around smartphones on the computer might not seem like significant leaps and bounds, but mark my words: It will bring those users who are fearful of technology a feeling of security knowing that the process is simple and secure. When we’ve had terms like ‘install’ and ‘download’ used as fear tactics by the press in years past, it’s easy to see the type of people this will bring into the market.

    So if you want to talk about leaps and bounds, talk about the steps Mozilla has made in bringing more and more people a sense of security in the internet. It’s really easy to overlook them, especially when you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum.

  28. Kenneth wrote on

    So, am I correct in understanding that all of this goes on in the client side? There’s not really any room for server side stuff such as PHP? What about databases? Is that all local too or is there room for communicating with a MySQL backend, or will there need to be great efforts to synchronize between computers?

    I understand that apps are all the rage these days, but this seems to take away much of the flexibilty of the web.

    How does this relate to, say, Sproutcore apps, where all the logic lives in the client? I’ve been thinking of trying to learn Sproutcore, be neat if it was compatible with this vision.

  29. Reynaldo de Asis wrote on

    ‘Open Web App’ is simply great if finally launched. I am a Victim to the absence of such an application, that is for having made “FIREFOX 3.6′ my default browser(for years) in a Windows XP OS. And worse, I am to become again a victim of Apple’s IPAD which similarly ‘forbids’ the use of said browser in its over-publicized device.Mine is a sad story, but briefly explained, I am no longer able to install new ‘Windows OS’ using a legit ,WGA -passed Windows XP installer CD as this may now be the ‘World’s most CORRUPTED WINDOWS CD installer’ thanks to its main component Internet Explorer. This projected ‘Open Web App’ should be developed in the form of a CD Installer that must be received by any OS installed in PC,s or Mobile devices. FYI: I still have in possession the ‘Corrupted WIN CD’ (w/ Product Key ) and the Hard Disk that contains Windows Corrupted Garbage!

  30. Nick Taylor wrote on

    “Work in all modern Web browsers, while enabling each browser to compete on app presentation, organization and management user interfaces.”

    They don’t do that do they? Compete I mean.

    If they compete at all, they compete on market share – ie: developers are forced to code for those that have the biggest markets… while slowly… slooooooowly, over the decades, persuading people not to use IE.

  31. Phil wrote on

    I like the idea of Mozilla turning its attention to the web app space. Not too long ago Internet explorer was the only browser around used as a commercial tool to create a virtual monopoply in and around computing.

    Mozilla challenged the branded oligopoly version of the internet into a more perfect union of software and philosophy, they came up on the rails from behind and I think the ethos of challenging the status quo where mega corporations create monopolies is a good one.

    Keep it up Mozilla, keep challenging and providing alternative options. We need the competion, take good ideas and develop them for the benefit of all and strangely enough help the complacent corporations themselves.