Mozilla sidesteps iPhone ban on rival browsers

Slates June App Store submission for tool that syncs Firefox bookmarks, tabs to iPhone

Mozilla Corp. plans to submit a Firefox application to Apple Inc.'s iPhone App Store next month, but it won't be a full-fledged Firefox browser, the company said Wednesday.

Instead, Mozilla will ask Apple to approve Firefox Home, a spin-off of the bookmark and tab synchronization technology it currently offers as an add-on to the Firefox desktop browser.

Mozilla will submit the free application to the App Store within the next three weeks. "However, we have no way of telling if or when it will be approved and available for download," said Ragavan Srinivasan, a product manager at Mozilla, in an entry on the company's blog.

Firefox Home will give users access to their browser bookmarks and history, as well as to the open tabs from their most recent Firefox sessions. The iPhone application will also include technology from Firefox's "Awesome Bar" -- the name Mozilla gave to the revamped address bar in Firefox 3.0 -- that lets users search for previously-visited pages using keywords or characters in either the URL or the page title.

Mozilla's application offers only one-way sync -- from Firefox on the desktop to the iPhone, but not the reverse.

Firefox Home is one way for Mozilla to dodge Apple's ban of rival browsers on its iPhone smartphone and iPad tablet.

"For devices or platforms where we're unable to provide the 'full' Firefox browser (either technically or due to policy), we aim to provide users with 'on the go' instant access to their personal Firefox history, bookmarks and open tabs on their iPhones, giving them another reason to keep loving Firefox on their desktops," said Srinivasan.

Mozilla has been a vocal critic of Apple's ban of rival browsers. Last year, the company backed a request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that would allow iPhone owners to "jailbreak" their phones without fear of copyright infringement penalties. At the same time, Mozilla's CEO said his company would not develop a version of Firefox for the iPhone.

Elsewhere on its site, Mozilla said it has no plans to create a Firefox Sync plug-in for Safari on the iPhone that would allow iPhone-to-Firefox synchronization, giving users round-trip sync.

Because Apple prohibits competing browsers on the iPhone, Firefox Home will be "read-only," and will rely on the smartphone's native Safari browser to actually render pages.

Norwegian browser maker Opera Software ASA is the only major Safari rival to have built and submitted software to the App Store. Apple approved that offering, Opera Mini, in mid-April.

Like Firefox Home, Opera Mini sidestepped Apple's browser ban, but it did so in a different way. Rather than connect to Web sites directly, Opera Mini pulls compressed pages from Opera's own servers, a tactic that the company claims results in page download and rendering speeds that are six times faster than those of the iPhone's Safari.

Firefox Home will work on iPhones and iPod Touches, and on Apple's iPad media tablet in iPhone mode.

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@ix.netcom.com.

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