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A harmonious partnership.

Ex-Mozilla employees are teaming up with the Chinese government to kill Android

By Josh Horwitz

What do group of former Firefox engineers and the Chinese government have in common? They both seem to think there’s room for a real competitor to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, the operating systems that 96.3% of the world’s smartphones run on.

China’s Tsinghua Unigroup has invested $100 million into Acadine Technologies, a little-known but long-gestating startup based in Hong Kong. While Arcadine, which was only founded this year, has yet to actually launch its operating system, its pedigree is notable.

Arcadine CEO Li Gong was once the president of Mozilla, where he oversaw development of Firefox’s operating system worldwide while based in mainland China and Taiwan. While Firefox OS received lots of hype from Mozilla devotees, its adoption was marginal.

Li left in April 2015 to start a company named “Gone Fishing,” which appears to have been a temporary moniker. Not long after Li’s exit, one of the co-founders of Firefox OS left the company too, indicating the project has fallen on hard times. A lot of ex-Mozilla talent has now apparently moved to Li’s new project.

Tsinghua Unigroup, meanwhile, is fast emerging as one of the main vehicles driving China’s efforts to rid itself of foreign IT, both to boost its competitive edge and address “national security” concerns.

The state-owned firm has has made $40 billion worth of acquisitions in the past year, and is no stranger to working with foreign component makers. Tsinghua purchased a 52% stake in HP’s China networking unit, and itself received $1.5 billion in investment from Intel for 20% equity. Just this week, the company reportedly expressed interest in buying Idaho-based chipmaker Micron for $23 billion.

Tsinghua’s investment in Arcadine points to another one of the Chinese government’s obsessions—developing a homegrown operating system.

Intermittently, over the past two years, reports have surfaced detailing the country’s efforts to develop a “Made in China” alternative to Android. But these efforts thus far have come to nothing: in China, the operating-system market is overwhelmingly dominated by Android and the runners-up are growing even less popular:

Globally, iOS and Android dominate the market for mobile operating systems as well.

There’s little reason to think this will change. Xiaomi, China’s biggest smartphone vendor, has no plans to deviate from Android. What will make Acadine so different, then?

It claims to be developing an operating system called H5OS, which is based off of HTML5, a programming language that merges the look and feel of the web with the look and feel of native apps. The standard hasn’t quite taken off, despite being touted as the future of the internet by several companies.