Mozilla Shows Off Web App Product in Bits and Pieces

Mozilla is taking its first significant steps toward building an ecosystem of web apps.

The Firefox maker has announced the first developer release for the Mozilla Web Apps Project. Unlike Google's Chrome Web Store, which launched in December with apps from big names like the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and NPR, Mozilla's project is off to a modest start, with a series of disparate parts that will eventually coalesce into a full-blown platform.

For now, you can mess around with all the individual pieces. The first step is to install the Mozilla Web App extension, which places an app launcher in the browser's toolbar, for either Firefox or Chrome. Yes, as opposed to the Chrome Web Store, Mozilla's approach is browser-agnostic. Once the extension is installed, you can check out some demo apps. There's also a gallery of user interface concepts, as well as a concept web app dashboard that looks promising; some apps are capable of displaying live information from the launcher, kind of like Windows Phone 7's live tiles.

But don't expect to get much use out of the existing 17 demo apps. They're all just links to other websites, and while that's technically true of any web app, the demos don't include any fresh takes on web design to make the sites feel more app-like. And without a storefront for discovery and a proper launcher, this is all just show and tell.

In time, Mozilla plans to add native browser controls, OS integration, mobile device syncing and - I'll use Mozilla's description because I can't think of a better one - a "deeply integrated ‘in browser' experience that spans the entire find, install, launch, use and manage flow." Developers will also be able to create their own individual app stores.

In general, I like the web app concept because it helps you discover new services and provides an easy way to launch and manage them. I'm excited to see whether Mozilla can raise the bar over what Google has created with Chrome.

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