Mozilla debuts mobile browser alpha

It also posts Fennec builds for the desktop to get more feedback

Mozilla Corp. late Thursday released the first public preview of its mobile browser, and the company took the unusual step of offering it in versions for desktop PCs and Macs to collect feedback.

Code-named "Fennec" in a nod to the fennec fox, a small animal that lives in the Sahara Desert and is notable for its huge ears, the browser is built from the same Gecko code base that drives the also-under-construction Firefox 3.1, which just hit Beta 1 on Tuesday.

Mozilla pitched the alpha as "an early developer release" suitable for "testing purposes only," its typical description for its prebeta editions. However, according to Mark Finkle, Mozilla's platform evangelist, the company is looking for feedback from as many people as possible.

To that end, Fennec has been released not only for the one device it currently supports, Nokia Corp.'s N810 Internet Tablet, but also in versions for desktops and laptops running Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

"We are also releasing desktop versions of Fennec," said Finkle in a post to his blog late last night. "That's right, you can install Fennec on your Windows, OS X or Linux desktop too! We want you to be able to experiment, provide feedback, write add-ons and generally get involved with the Mozilla Mobile project, even if you don't have a device."

The Nokia N810 is not a cell phone, but rather is a small device for browsing the Internet, similar in some ways to Apple Inc.'s iPod touch. It runs the Maemo operating system, which is based on the Debian distribution of Linux.

A version of Fennec suitable for use under Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Mobile operating system is also in the works, but it isn't ready for public testing.

Fennec includes touch-screen support, includes a password manager and pop-up blocker, offers a Firefox-style tab-browsing interface, and provides the same address bar functionality as its big brother.

Still to come, said Mozilla in the alpha version's release notes, will be an implementation of TraceMonkey, the company's turbocharged JavaScript engine, and support for geolocation, a feature embedded in the Gecko 1.9.1 code base that has also surfaced in Firefox.

Mozilla is relatively late to the mobile browser market. Opera Software ASA, the Norwegian company noted for its Opera browser, leads the pack on mobile devices and phones, while Safari handles Internet duties on Apple's iPhone.

Nor is Fennec the open-source developer's first stab at a mobile browser. An earlier run at the idea, dubbed Minimo, was officially abandoned last November, several months before work started on Fennec.

Fennec Alpha 1 can be downloaded from Mozilla's Web site.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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