Mozilla's Chairman Confirms Progress on a New Mobile Browser

by Ostatic Staff - Apr. 24, 2008

At the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco today, Mozilla Chairman Mitchell Baker gave an address on opening the mobile web, which Webware did a nice job of analyzing. Many people have been wondering if Mozilla will deliver a version of the Firefox browser to work with the many Linux-based phones currently in the works, including phones based on Google's Android platform. While Baker didn't concretely confirm those details, she did discuss an upcoming mobile browser from Mozilla, to arrive later this year, code-named Fennec. (A Fennec is a small fox--get it?)

As I covered in a recent post on whether Linux can quickly grab a significant part of the mobile phone market, there are some good indications that it may. At the recent Mobile World Congress conference, there were more than 20 new mobile phones based on Linux announced, most of them using the LiMo platform.

Google's Android solution is also stoking the fire, and promises to bring much open source technology to mobile handsets. ABI Research also has a report out predicting that as soon as 2010, 20 percent of mid- and high-end mobile devices will run a Linux operating system.

If open source software starts to become more prevalent on mobile devices, especially at the operating system level, it seems essential for Mozilla to extend its growing position in the browser market out to mobile devices. Of course, Mozilla has already confirmed its intent to do so with mobile plaftorms in general, with its Mozilla Mobile initiative, announced last October. Mozilla already offers Minimo for mobile devices, but it is not ambitious enough in its current form to take advantage of possible widespread open source adoption on mobile devices.

Earlier this month, Mozilla developers released pre-Alpha test builds of a mobile browser called Fennec, which Ars Technica discussed with Mozilla Mobile director Jay Sullivan. As the Ars Technica post notes, skepticism that Mozilla would be able to deliver a mobile browser with a small footprint and the kind of performance that, say, Opera would offer is misplaced. Mozilla technical evangelist Chris Blizzard notes that optimizations for Mozilla's mobile browser are working well. In addition, Mozilla has touchscreen interfaces for mobile browsing in the works.

Open source platforms have had a herky-jerky ride on mobile devices thus far. Nokia has had some success with Maemo, but several Linux phones from players such as Motorola and Samsung haven't gone anywhere. The more than 20 new Linux phones announced at the Mobile World Congress conference, and Google's Android platform, strongly appear poised to shake things up. It would be good for everyone if Mozilla succeeds in delivering a top-notch mobile browser for these platforms.

Do you think Mozilla will get there?