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Mozilla steps up bid for mobile relevance

A dramatically tweaked Android browser from Mozilla is in the works and a beta version might soon be announced. Industry observers say this is critical as Mozilla attempts to remain technologically relevant in the mobile computing industries. And given the company’s conspicuous absence in the explosive mobile markets, this couldn’t be too soon.

The last quarter saw an estimated 26 million iPads and iPhones sold in just six weeks. But in none of them is the Firefox browser running. That’s due to Apple’s policy that only browsers using its WebKit engine can be used and its Safari remains the leading mobile web browser in the world. Mozilla is left with having its browsing presence in the Android universe.

It will be recalled that the early Firefox browsers for Android had slow startups that only alienated users. Mozilla hopes to do better this time using the native Google Android interface to craft an Android-only browser instead of using its own XUL interface. And early tests on the upcoming Android mobile browser are promising.

In a blog post, developer Mark Finkle disclosed that: “Start-up time is many times faster than the XUL version. Launching via the icon is almost instantaneous.” The new mobile Firefox also eats less memory and is planned to run on Android tablets as well. The only question that remains is when.

The process takes time even under Mozilla’s rapid-release development timeframes. Programmers promote software versions on the Nightly channel every six weeks before reaching the Aurora channel, which then gets promoted to beta before getting finalized for the markets also in six weeks. The Firefox 11 beta, for instance, starts on January 31, from a release schedule of Mozilla’s Asa Dotzler. It becomes the market-bound Firefox release on March 13, at which time the next Firefox 12 beta begins development.

By most standards, six weeks may not be that long. But at the breakneck speed that developments in the mobile computing industry is hurtling itself, that may prove to be an eternity. And while Mozilla is a nonprofit organization aiming to keep open the World Wide Web, the name Mozilla Firefox could end up a historic artifact in mobile computing. Mozilla needs to release its Firefox mobile browsers as soon as it can.

  • CityGirl

    I didn’t realize Mozilla’s Firefox doesn’t work on all the new iPads and iPhones out there. I’m glad to see Mozilla’s getting back into the boxing ring. I also need to learn to use Safari.