Mozilla Preps Mobile Browser ... Is It Already Too Late?

Mozilla Corporation this week released a so-called alpha version of its mobile version of the Firefox Web browser, code-named Fennec. This project replaces a previous project, called Minimo, which was the company's first stab at a mobile browser.

"Fennec (Mobile Firefox) has reached milestone 9, which is also our first alpha," Mozilla platform evangelist Mark Finkle wrote in his blog. "We're calling this release the User Experience alpha. The last eight milestones were building up to getting a stable browser with an easy to use interface. We really want to get Fennec in front of as many people as possible and get feedback."

If released in final form, Fennec will enter a crowded market, and it's unclear whether there's any room for yet another mobile Web browser. Apple's Safari is dominant on that company's iPhone device, Internet Explorer rules on Windows Mobile, and Opera's eponymous browser, while an also-ran on the PC desktop, is quite popular in the mobile space. But these aren't the only entries in the mobile space: Every device maker, it seems, ships a different mobile browser with their phones.

What Fennec brings to the table is compatibility with the popular PC Firefox browser. It uses the same rendering engine, so Web pages should look the same on devices as they do on the PC. And like other browser makers, mobile or otherwise, Mozilla is working on dramatically improving the speed of JavaScript and other technologies that impact page rendering time.

To gain the biggest possible audience, Mozilla is targeting Fennec at a range of device types, though there are some curious gaps. The current alpha, however, is available only for the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet, which runs the Nokia OS2008 operating system. (A Windows Mobile version is planned. Curiously, a RIM Blackberry version is not.) A version for the PC is available to help developer testing.

Meanwhile, Mozilla's competitors are not standing still. Opera this week released a new beta version of its Opera 9.5 mobile browser for Windows Mobile and Symbian. Opera 9.5 supprts small add-on utilities, called widgets, and the company claims 100 million users of its previous versions.

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