Mozilla's New Mobile Browser, Fennec, Makes Big Gains

Logo FirefoxFirefox certainly looks geared to make impressive gains in the PC browser marketshare war. However, with cell phones, smart phones, and other mobile devices being one of the hottest market segments right now, Firefox is serious in its belief that in order to truly become a superpower it must make inroads in these markets.

The Mozilla Mobile initiative first was announced last October, and after lots of hard work has already reached a functional prototype stage. The new pre-alpha build codenamed Fennec was presented by Mozilla Mobile director Jay Sullivan, who is gearing up for the August 2008 first alpha build.

Originally it would have been a laughable proposition to consider Firefox on a cell phone. The browser, notorious for its memory bloat, seemed an unlikely candidate. However, with Firefox 3 shaping up to be perhaps the leanest next generation browser memorywise, Firefox now certainly seems a viable contender. Thanks to jemalloc, other memory optimizations, and Javascript speed improvements, the new face of Firefox is a mobile ready one.

Mozilla technical evangelist Chris Blizzard was among those promoting Mozilla's mobile efforts. He states that the substantial gains on the x86/PC side of the browser market are overshadowed by the even larger respective gains on ARM processors, typically found in smart phones. As an example he points to the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet which has a browser based on a fork of an early alpha candidate of Firefox 3. Pitting this earlier Firefox derive browser against Fennec in the SunSpider Javascript benchmark, Fennec showed its power, performing over six times as well as the early browser.

The difference between Fennec and MicroB, the early browser, produced an easily noticeable speed difference. Typically such differences are more subtle, but with Fennec it was pronounced; the new browser is fast!

And the Fennec developers aren't just focused on developing a top speed and memory performer. They also are equipping the browser with an intuitive interface, including touch capabilities, which will make it a natural fit to the mobile environment. The Fennec browser was based on one of Mozilla's touchscreen mobile interface proposals.

Fennec is not ready for an alpha release yet as many of Firefox's main features need to be added or implemented still. However it already supports useful inertial scrolling and a single click bookmark system similar to that of Firefox 3. Support for Mozilla's new AwesomeBar technology will eventually be added, but is not present currently.

"The current build you've got is really just a starting point to give us a framework to start experimenting, doing performance tests, etc.," says Sullivan, "It's a true peek under the hood, and you're able to get that peek because of the unique level of openness we have at Mozilla."

He continues, "Our goal on mobile is to embody the principles that have made Firefox so successful on the desktop, but with the recognition that mobile is different??”not so much in that it presents some constraints, but in that it enables new types of experiences, and people's interaction with these devices are different than when they're sitting at their desks. Web compatibility, security, performance, support for rich internet apps will all be key."

"With existing mobile browsers, it's hard to do basic things like enter URLs, navigate around rich pages, switch between multiple pages, and in general the browser is in a silo separate from the rest of what the phone can do," Sullivan explains, "We're doing some creative thinking about how to make it easier to get to the content you care about, easier to navigate within those pages, easier to seamlessly move between your PC and your phone."

The browser is written with XUL, an XML based language, making it easy to modify and extend the browser by modifying its .xul, .js, and .css files. The .js file will allow more complex java script extensions, and the system should support full extensions capability similar to Firefox on the PC. New add-ons are being developed for the browser.

Developers can even use a XULRunner runtime with XML and JavaScript to create platform-neutral mobile applications, a valuable asset. Mozilla developer Brad Lassey has shown one such runtime, Maemo and has used it to run PC applications in XUL on Nokia devices. Lassey has even began to have success runnign XULRunner on Windows Mobile 6, opening a whole new world of compatibility.

Says Sullivan, "To build a great mobile app today, developers need to target one or more native platforms; that limits their reach right out of the box. Then, they need to get those apps in users' hands. It's a nightmare. So, just like we did on the desktop, we need to make the Web a viable platform to develop rich applications for mobile. That's what we're doing. With full AJAX support, SQLite, and access to device capabilities from JavaScript, we're going to unleash a lot of creativity."

Source: DailyTech

Tags: Firefox

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