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The past year hasn't exactly been easy for Mozilla.

The organization's popular web browser, Firefox, has become a bit less popular thanks in large part to the rise of Google's Chrome web browser. Once a solid number two in the browser market, Chrome, according to some sources, has surpassed Firefox in usage.

Mozilla isn't going down without a fight. It switched to a more rapid release cycle for Firefox in an effort to keep the pace of innovation up (or create that appearance), but it's also doing something much, much bigger: turning its attention the mobile web.

That makes sense. The mobile web, after all, while growing rapidly, is still nascent and is creating a number of new opportunities.

The opportunity Mozilla has set its sights on is perhaps one of the largest: the creation of an app ecosystem that doesn't require consumers and developers to go through the Google and Apple's of the world. They, of course, run the app stores on their respective platforms, Android and iOS, effectively making them gatekeepers for those who want to buy and sell native apps.

The San Jose Mercury News explains:

Mozilla's vision is to develop a phone that would run apps within the phone's browser, and that would not be limited to a specific operating system, such as Google's Android, Apple's iOS or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. The project is code-named "Boot to Gecko," (a name based on a component of its Firefox browser) and Mozilla, which is talking to manufacturers and wireless carriers that might build and support a Mozilla phone, could unveil an early prototype of the software as soon as the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, next week.

Mozilla hopes to re-create in the mobile arena the same sort of success it had with its Firefox browser, which challenged Microsoft and ultimately helped give consumers five strong choices for browsers.

In a blog post, Mozilla has confirmed that is launching an app store of its own, dubbed the Mozilla Marketplace:

The Mozilla Labs Apps project aims to establish a people-centric Apps ecosystem that provides freedom, choice and opportunity for users and developers. We are doing this by adding key capabilities to the Web platform in the form of new Mozilla-proposed APIs and by establishing the Mozilla Marketplace as the first operating system- and device-independent market for apps based on open Web technologies like HTML5, JavaScript and CSS.

Developers will be able to submit their apps for inclusion in the Mozilla Marketplace beginning next week, but apparently won't launch to the public until later in the year.

Obviously, Mozilla's goals are ambitious and it's well-positioned to act on them. The big question, however, is just how much demand there is for its "people-centric Apps ecosystem."

To be sure, many developers will welcome the ability to avoid Apple and Google and the taxes they effectively charge for distribution through their app stores. But there's one huge caveat -- any alternatives have to be viable (read: profitable). For the Mozilla Marketplace to be profitable for developers, it needs consumers with open wallets.

Right now, Mozilla's primary competition is probably those consumers, who appear to like their native apps. And for good reason; native apps often provide greater levels of functionality and performance than their web counterparts. If Mozilla is to succeed with its mobile web strategy, it will need to convince them that this isn't always the case.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 February, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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