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2/29/2008
04:33 PM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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Mozilla Making Strides With Mobile Browser

Late last year, Mozilla promised to "rock" the mobile Web with a new mobile browser of its own. Mozilla admits that success won't happen overnight, but a spokesperson did say, "Mozilla's mission is to break open a closed market." Can Mozilla be a player in an already crowded field of alternatives?

Late last year, Mozilla promised to "rock" the mobile Web with a new mobile browser of its own. Mozilla admits that success won't happen overnight, but a spokesperson did say, "Mozilla's mission is to break open a closed market." Can Mozilla be a player in an already crowded field of alternatives?Mozilla VP of engineering Mike Schroepfer confirmed that the company is in talks with mobile network operators about its upcoming mobile Firefox browser. He says the browser will be released sometime this year and believes it will have a firm impact on the mobile market by December. For now, mobile Firefox will be targeting just two platforms: Windows Mobile and embedded Linux.

There certainly won't be a shortage of Windows Mobile devices on which mobile Firefox could work. The number of Linux devices, though, is an altogether different matter. OpenMoko is working on bringing a version of its Linux phone to the mass market later this year, and NeoNode also is going to be bringing its Neo2 to U.S. shores, as well. But these phones already will have browsers installed. And there's a plethora of mobile browsers already out there.

Let's count the current line-up of mobile Web browsers. The iPhone has Safari (and right now it can't use any other browser). Windows Mobile devices come with Internet Explorer. Palm devices come with Blazer. BlackBerrys come with the BlackBerry browser. (Are you sensing a trend yet?) Nokia S60 devices come with the S60 browser. Then there's all the WAP browsers out there. Opera has its full-scale Opera Mobile and slimmed-down Opera Mini browsers.

Each major handset manufacturer (of smartphones, anyway) has its own mobile browser. Some are better than others. Opera, in comparison, is a third-party browser that can be downloaded and used on several different platforms. Opera Mobile works with Symbian and Windows Mobile smartphones, and Opera Mini works with dozens of manufacturers and phone models. It far surpasses the usability of the native browsers on Palm, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry smartphones.

Then there's Google. Before Google announced Android and the Open Handset Alliance, it said it would bring a mobile browser to the market. While the company has been mum on details since that initial announcement, we have to assume that it will be bundled with the Android platform software.

As you can see, the field is crowded. It's true that not all mobile browsers are created equal. But where does Mozilla really think that mobile Firefox is going to fit in here? If you ask me, it shouldn't be targeting embedded Linux platforms, at least not from the onset. The Opera Mobile browser works with Windows Mobile and Symbian for a reason. They are two highly prevalent smartphone platforms. Mobile Firefox should be targeting the same two platforms. And I would add BlackBerry in there before it shoots for Linux.

Thoughts? Where will mobile Firefox have the biggest impact?

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