Mozilla: Forget about Firefox on iPhone

Instead, it plans to put muscle behind Firefox Home sync app, build versions for BlackBerry, Nokia

Mozilla yesterday again rejected the idea of crafting a version of Firefox for the iPhone, saying that it is instead focusing its iOS efforts on the Firefox Home sync software.

Firefox Home, which was admitted into the iPhone's App Store by Apple in July, is not a full-fledged browser, but rather a spin-off of the bookmark and tab synchronization technology Mozilla is baking into Firefox 4.

The application gives users access to their browser bookmarks and history, as well as to the open tabs from their most recent Firefox sessions. The iPhone application also includes technology from Firefox's address bar to let users search for previously-visited pages using keywords or characters in either the URL or the page title.

Synchronization is one-way only -- from Firefox on the desktop to the iPhone, but not the reverse.

In a blog post that outlined Mozilla's future plans for Firefox Home, the company reiterated that it won't try to turn the app into a fully-functional browser. "People have asked about adding more browser-like features to Firefox Home, but there are technical and logistical restrictions that make it difficult, if not impossible, to build the full Firefox browser for the iPhone," said Ragavan Srinivasan, a product manager at Mozilla.

Although Apple clarified its App Store admission policies earlier this month, competing browsers remain off limits to outside developers like Mozilla unless they're willing to completely rewrite their code.

"Apps that browse the Web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit JavaScript," Apple's revised guidelines read.

But Firefox is based on Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine, whereas Google's Chrome on the desktop and Apple's Safari on the desktop and the iPhone are based on WebKit. Mozilla also relies on its own JavaScript engine, dubbed TraceMonkey.

The thumbs-down for Firefox on the iPhone was no surprise: As long ago as February 2009, the company's then-CEO, John Lilly, said that Mozilla would not develop a browser for Apple's smartphone.

Rather than dump resources down a black hole, Mozilla yesterday said it would push on with Firefox Home for the BlackBerry and Symbian platforms -- Symbian powers Nokia's phones. Srinivasan also said the team might write an iPad-specific edition of the sync application.

According to Srinivasan, the company plans to beef up the current Firefox Home for the iPhone with additions such as password synchronization, and possibly new connections to social networking services like Twitter and Facebook that would let users share links or other comments.

Mozilla's built-for-mobile browser, called Fennec, will run on Google's Android operating system, putting the company on that fast-growing platform. Fennec, which was recently renumbered from version 2 to version 4 to keep it in step with Firefox on the desktop, went public as an alpha preview last month. Mozilla froze development of the first Fennec 4 beta earlier this month.

The company has no plans to create a version of Firefox Home for Android.

Firefox Home 1.02 was released last week, and can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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