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April 4, 2013

What Does Mozilla-Samsung Partnership Mean for Chrome?

Mozilla, Samsung Team Up to Work on New Rendering Engine

Mozilla’s announcement yesterday that it is teaming up with Samsung on Servo, a new rendering engine written in a programming language called Rust, has set some tongues wagging.

Why is Samsung, the most prominent manufacturer of Android Smartphones, partnering with Mozilla, the creator of Firefox and a direct competitor of Google’s Chrome, the default browser on Android devices?

While Mozilla’s Firefox is a popular browser for PCs and laptops, it is not known as a mobile browser. Mozilla is working to change that of course — Mozilla previewed the first commercial build of its Firefox OS open mobile ecosystem Feb. 24.

And now that Mozilla is hard at work on a future version of Firefox built on Servo, given Samsung’s stake in the project, it is not a leap to think Samsung could swap Google’s Chrome for a new and improved version of Firefox.

Some experts say Google’s recent decision to split from WebKit to Blink, its own open-source rendering engine for WebKit, could give Servo — which is completely separate from WebKit — a leg up.

Mozilla describes Servo as an attempt to “rebuild the Web browser from the ground up on modern hardware, rethinking old assumptions along the way.” As a result, the company will address security vulnerabilities while designing a platform to make use of “the performance of tomorrow’s massively parallel hardware to enable new and richer experiences on the Web.”

Servo is written in Rust, a new, safe systems language developed by Mozilla, the firm’s CTO Brendan Eich said in a blog post.

“We are now pleased to announce with Samsung that together we are bringing both the Rust programming language and Servo, the experimental Web browser engine, to Android and ARM,” Eich said.

“This is an exciting step in the evolution of both projects that will allow us to start deeper research with Servo on mobile. Samsung has already contributed an ARM backend to Rust and the build infrastructure necessary to cross-compile to Android, along with many other improvements. You can try this now by downloading the code from Github, but it’s just the beginning.”

Rust has been in development for a number of years and is quickly approaching stability, Eich said, describing it as a “safe by default, preventing entire classes of memory management errors that lead to crashes and security vulnerabilities.”

Eich said Mozilla and its partners are “racing” to finalize the first significant revision of Rust.  As part of that effort, Mozilla will be cleaning up, expanding and documenting the libraries, “building out” its tools to enhance user experience and bolstering performance.

“At the same time, we will be putting more resources into Servo, trying to prove that we can build a fast web browser with pervasive parallelism, and in a safe, fun language,” he said. “We, along with our friends at Samsung will be increasingly looking at opportunities on mobile platforms.”