Fennec, Mozilla's Mobile Browser, Marches On

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 20, 2009

Last month we checked in on the alpha version 2 of Mozilla's open source mobile browser, dubbed Fennec. That alpha version has been in widespread testing on Windows, Mac and Linux desktop systems, in order to reach more developers and users than would be possible only on mobile platforms. Now, according to a list of milestones on Mozilla's site it looks like we'll see the official beta version of this very promising browser show up on February 27th. There are even more reasons to believe that this mobile browser could be a game-changer.

As Ars Technica notes, an embedded Linux developer named Jaya Kumar has successfully tested the Fennec browser on an E-ink device. There were some limitations, such as not getting an on-screen keyboard to work, but video posted in the Ars Technica piece, and other videos that Kumar has on YouTube, show Fennec to be promising on E-Ink and Amazon Kindle-style devices.

There have already been strong indications that Mozilla has its eyes on much more than just mobile phones for Fennec. The browser runs on Nokia's n810 tablets at the moment, and could have promise for tablets, e-books and many kinds of mobile devices.

As we've covered before, Fennec's interface is built in such a way that off-screen components play a part in the browsing experience through extensive use of zooming, scrolling and more. That was Mozilla's original design intent, is a big part of why the browser is promising, and why it is promising on devices such as e-books. The Kindle and other devices in its class have not typically had very advanced browsing features.

In keeping with the Firefox tradition, there are also extensions headed for Fennec, which could really differentiate it from other mobile browsers. I covered the very first extension forked to Fennec here, and it was a Firefox extension. I'm betting Mozilla will encourage many developers of Firefox extensions to follow suit.

A reader of our previous post on Fennec made this point: "The key here is going to be OEM adoption. Just having a mobile browser is one thing. Getting it on to user devices is another." I couldn't agree more, and Mozilla will probably proceed with a three-pronged approach: 1) getting OEMs to adopt Fennec as a default mobile browser; 2) getting it onto many more devices than just mobile phones; and 3) encouraging developers of Firefox extensions to adjust their offerings for Fennec.

Just as Android is heading for multiple types of hardware platforms, Fennec should too. This project remains one to watch, and I'm looking forward to moving beyond the screencasts and videos and working with the beta next month.