Mobile Firefox, real soon now (and radarange UIs)

It's only bloomin' Friday's IT Blogwatch: in which Mozilla plans mobile world domination with Firefox. Not to mention human factors in your kitchen...

Nancy Gohring reports

After a couple of experiences dipping a toe into the mobile market, Mozilla Corp. said it plans to get serious about developing a mobile browser. Mozilla has recently hired two new developers to help work on the project and plans to release Mobile Firefox some time in the next year or two.

The iPhone, Apple Inc.'s popular new mobile phone, in part contributed to the renewed interest in mobile browsing at Mozilla ... As Mozilla continues to develop Mozilla2, the second version of the platform on which Firefox is built, it will add mobile devices as a category. That means developers of Mozilla2, which is expected to be complete in early 2009, will keep mobile phones in mind as they build the new platform.
Mozilla could face competition from companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Apple that include their own browsers in phones running their operating systems, as well as from third parties, such as Opera Software ASA, that have been fine-tuning their mobile browsers for years. [more]

Ryan Paul adds:

Mozilla's Firefox web browser has steadily increased in popularity on the desktop, but those market share gains haven't translated over into the mobile space despite increasing interest in mobile open-source software solutions ... Mozilla's plans include making mobile devices a first-tier platform, shipping a version of Firefox designed for mobile devices that also supports extensions and XUL application development, and expanding the team of full-time mobile Firefox developers. The problem for Mozilla is that there are already some entrenched players in the mobile space, and dislodging them is bound to be difficult.
For Firefox 3, the Mozilla developers have invested considerable energy in overhauling Gecko, the underlying rendering toolkit used by the web browser. The newly improved Gecko 1.9, which will be included in Firefox 3, resolves a number of significant long-standing issues. With those problem solved and out of the way, the developers will be able to look to the future and start working on other things, like mobile development.

The Firefox user interface is built with a unique XML-based interface design framework called XUL, which provides a high level of platform portability but is also very resource-intensive ... [which is a] significant factor that diminishes Firefox's viability in a mobile setting. [more]

Mike Schroepfer is VP of engineering at Mozilla Corp.:

People ask us all the time about what Mozilla's going to do about the mobile web, and I'm very excited to announce that we plan to rock it ... A large portion of the world accesses the Internet from mobile devices ... mobile devices outsell computers 20-1.
Christian Sejersen, recently the head of browsers at Openwave which has shipped over 1 billion mobile browsers, joined Mozilla Monday. He'll be heading up the platform engineering effort and setting up a R&D center in Copenhagen, Denmark. Brad Lassey just joined Mozilla from France Telecom R&D. He's already been an active contributor to our mobile efforts and can now focus on Mozilla mobile full time. These folks will accelerate the tremendous work already done by Doug Turner, Chris Hofmann and the entire Mozilla community.
You can already get a Mozilla-based browser for the Nokia N800 and Firefox is a key part of Ubuntu Mobile and the new Intel Internet Project, and most recently ARM has put serious effort towards Firefox on mobile devices ... Up until very recently device limitations required writing new mobile browsers from the ground up. Being able to leverage all the investments in the Mozilla platform across both desktops and devices is the right approach. There is far from a dominant player in this marketplace and even the best mobile browsers today have compromises. [more]

Here's Brad Linder:

We've known Mozilla had big plans for the mobile space for a while now. But we were a bit disappointed when Mozilla announced their first major Mobile offering back in August. Joey is basically just a web clipping service that lets you save web content using your desktop Firefox browser and access it from any old mobile browser. We were hoping to see a mobile version of Firefox.

Well, sometimes dreams do come true ... Mozilla is adding mobile devices to the list of "first-class" development platforms.
Mozilla hasn't picked the target platforms yet. So there's no word whether you'll be able to run Firefox on Palm, Windows Mobile, or Symbian devices. Considering the iPhone is still officially a locked device, we doubt you'll see an official version for iPhone anytime soon, but that doesn't mean some industrious open source hacker won't find a way to run Mobile Firefox on the iPhone. [more]

Robert Accettura is glad to see it:

The thing that really sucks about developing for mobile devices is the browsers are pathetic at best (with the notable exception of the iPhone). Wireless speed is still an issue in some cases, but with 3G coming about, it’s not the biggest concern if you can manage to keep things slim. XUL on mobile will be very interesting. If done right, it would allow for client side applications that don’t suck, yet have the lowest barrier to entry (JS+XML = Easy). Not to mention you can target a bunch of devices with one download and code base. Don’t forget you’d still be able to do rather realistic debugging on your desktop.

Hopefully by the time this all comes around, data charges for mobile will drop significantly. The iPhone is still $60 for the cheapest plan. If you need more than 450 minutes of voice, you’ll be spending even more. While interest in the iPhone is high, between hardware and plan costs, I think it’s still to high to attract the masses. There’s still time. Firefox 3 isn’t even out yet. Mozilla 2 is still a little while away. I suspect these prices will be dropping as other providers try to compete with the iPhone. A price war is very likely. [more]

But Chris Messina says it's, "Too little, too late":

It’s as though Alexander Graham Bell woke from the dead and realized — now — that people like telephones, but they like them more without the wires. Having realized this, he suddenly wants to start building “moh-byle telephones“ ... Did I fall asleep? Where did that come from?.
Between WebKit/Safari and Opera Mini, there are already two fairly capable mobile browsers. A third is choice certainly welcome, but unless Mozilla’s got some OEM deals that they haven’t told anyone about (TrollTech perchance?), I’m not sure how they plan on getting on to mobile handsets considering how closed mobile phone hardware is.
Let’s contemplate that conspicuous mention of Intel in Schep’s post ... Moblin, Intel’s “Mobile & Internet Linux Project” relies on a version of Mozilla. With Schep’s additional emphasis on the improvements in mobile hardware, it seems perfectly reasonable that more capable mobile web experiences are going to demand faster processes and better hardware. Who benefits more from such circumstances than the folks who sell that kind of technology? And why else would Intel be pioneering an open source operating system based on Linux that uses as its center-piece an optimized version of Firefox? It certainly wouldn’t hurt to open some new markets for its more advanced mobile processors… that’s for sure. [more]

Paul Glazowski disagrees:

I myself have chosen to side with the ... glass-half-full ... crowd. Why? Firstly, I’m an unabashed proponent of the Firefox project. It shows that intelligent execution and the development of something safe, easy to use, pleasurable (oh, so pleasurable), customizable, and expandable can in fact grow to quite phenomenal heights. And I applaud the folks at Mozilla and all the various third-party developers for it.

And the fact that it’s free and cross-platform doesn’t hurt, either.

In short, it’s pretty much what Linux has wished to be all its life. Both espouse openness as a elemental virtue, but the team behind Firefox did what the backers of Linux did not, which is, essentially, making the software as expandable as possible while staying strong to the easy-to-use-and-it-just-works principle. [more]

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Microwave ovens: a lesson in UI simplicity

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You too can pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email:

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