Mozilla developers have been working on building a version of Firefox specifically for mobile devices. This involves not only fine tuning the Firefox web browser but adding new features and changing some of the default functionality in Firefox in order to make it more usable on mobile devices.
The problem with mobile devices
Mobile devices have been notoriously difficult to write to due to memory and CPU constraints as well as very limited displays. Luckily some of the constraints are being relaxed as mobile devices become more powerful. Devices such as Nokia’s N810, Apple’s iPhone and the OQO palmtop give developers access to rich displays and acceptable CPU and memory limitations in order to write fully functional software.
Why a whole new Firefox?
As evidenced by its popularity, Firefox works great as a browser on the desktop. In fact it works on mobile devices as well as Nokia has taken the Mozilla engine and created the MicroB browser which is included on the N810 and OS2008.
There are some advantages to tailoring a mobile version of Firefox however. For example, due to some of the mobile compromises with regards to CPU and memory, there some cases where optimization should be performed differently in a mobile context versus a desktop context. In fact performance optimizations appear to be high on the list for Fennec.
Mobile browsing is also different in that a keyboard and mouse is not always the preferred (or even possible) interaction methods. Activities that we often take for granted on a desktop such as cut and paste are not always easy or possible on mobile devices. By providing alternative means to perform certain tasks that are difficult or cumbersome on mobile devices can greatly ease the burden of mobile browsing and enhance the experience greatly.
Mobile Firefox can also go beyond a port of desktop Firefox in order to take advantage of the characteristics of mobile devices. Having integration with a devices phone capabilities or geolocation (GPS) capabilities could add interesting twists to browsing. A user’s mobile device could also act as a master data repository for different desktop installs allowing someone to keep multiple desktop Firefox installs in synch.
Fennec is still in pre-alpha stage with an alpha planned for September but in open source fashion, you can download and try milestone builds.
I downloaded Milestone 7 in order to try it out on my Nokia N810. The browser is definitely rougher around the edges than the built in N810 browser but I think that the developers have some good ideas and plans on how to take advantage of mobile browsing.
It will be interesting to see how Fennec develops in the future.
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