Apple approves Mozilla's Firefox Home iPhone app

But says it can be downloaded only by users 17 or older

Mozilla today announced that its Firefox Home iPhone application has been accepted to the App Store, and is available for downloading.

The program is not a full-fledged version of Firefox, but instead is a spin-off of the bookmark and tab synchronization technology it currently offers as an add-on to the desktop browser.

Mozilla submitted Firefox Home to the App Store on June 30.

The wait was longer than for most proposed apps, according to recent comments by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. In remarks last month at the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Jobs claimed that 95% of the submissions it receives are approved, most of them in less than a week.

Firefox Home 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 "Awesome Bar" -- Mozilla's name for the revamped address bar in Firefox 3.0 and later -- that lets users search for previously-visited pages using keywords or characters in either the URL or the page title.

Mozilla's application offers one-way sync only -- from Firefox on the desktop to the iPhone, but not the reverse. To enable desktop-to-iPhone synchronization, users must first install Firefox Sync in their browser. Firefox Home also works on the iPod Touch and on the iPad in iPhone mode.

Because Apple prohibits competing browsers on the iPhone, Firefox Home relies on the smartphone's native Safari browser to actually render bookmarked or history-recorded pages.

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. Jailbreaking lets iPhone owners install software not unauthorized by Apple onto their smartphones. At the same time, Mozilla's CEO said his company would not develop a version of Firefox for the iPhone.

Norwegian browser maker Opera Software is the only other browser maker to have built and submitted browsing-related software to the App Store. Apple approved 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 several times faster than Safari's.

Firefox Home carries a warning on iTunes that "You must be at least 17 years old to download this application" and then cites several reasons, including "Frequent/Intense Sexual Content or Nudity," "Frequent/Intense Profanity or Crude Humor," and "Frequent/Intense Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References."

That warning got a reaction from Robert Accettura, a Web developer and contributor to Mozilla's open-source projects. "Presumably the reasoning behind this is that a Web browser can view anything on the Internet and 12% of it is porn among other things out there," Accettura wrote in a post to his personal blog today.

But Accettura questioned why Apple singled out Firefox Home, as it had done earlier with Opera Mini. "If Apple really feels the Firefox Home app is dangerous, why doesn't it update Safari so that it warns people of the risks before first use?" he asked "Presumably a fair amount [of] iPhone users are under 17 and potentially unaware of the risks. Should parents be warned in the store? Safari is a default app and included in every iPhone that ships."

Opera Mini also carries a 17-and-older warning in the App Store.

Firefox Home can be downloaded directly to an iPhone or iPod Touch, or via iTunes to a Mac or Windows PC, then synced to the mobile device.

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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