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Mozilla Plans Firefox Browser For Mobile Devices

Mobile Firefox aims to bridge the desktop and mobile browsing experiences by allowing bookmarks, history, extensions, and other Firefox capabilities to work just as well on mobile devices.

There isn't a perfect mobile browser and there is plenty of room for competition in the space, which is why Mozilla is stepping up its efforts to improve the browsing experience on mobile phones, the company said this week.

"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. We are serious about bringing the Firefox experience and technology to mobile devices," wrote Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla's VP of engineering, in his blog on Tuesday.

Mozilla's plans include adding mobile devices to the first class/tier-1 platform set for Mozilla 2, the company's all-in-one open source Internet application suite that comes with a Web browser, e-mail, and newsgroup client. The move will make mobile devices part of Mozilla's core platform, Schroepfer said.

Mozilla also will roll out a version of Mobile Firefox, which can run Firefox extensions on mobile devices. Developers will be able to build rich applications for Mobile Firefox using extensible user-interface language (XUL), a markup language based on XML.

The last part of the strategy will involve hiring a small team of full-time employees that will focus on mobile technology and applications -- everything from testing, to user interface design, to core engineering. Mozilla recently welcomed Christian Sejersen, who formerly oversaw the browser unit at Openwave, and Brad Lassey from France Telecom's research and development, to the new team.

Mozilla browsers are already available on Nokia N800 smartphones and Mozilla offers Minimo, its mini Firefox browser, to users with a variety of Windows Mobile-based smartphones. It also offers a service called "Joey," which brings Firefox Web content to mobile devices. The service allows a person to use Firefox to send text clippings, pictures, videos, RSS content, and live bookmarks to their phone through the Joey server, and the content can then be accessed on the phone's Web browser.

Mozilla, however, wants to further bridge the desktop and mobile browsing experience by allowing bookmarks, history, extensions, and other Firefox capabilities to work just as well on mobile devices.

"We are wrapping up work on Gecko 1.9 and there is room post 1.9 to make significant changes to the architecture for improved performance and memory use on devices. Things like reducing the use of XPCOM, unifying memory management under MMgc, and other improvements from Mozilla 2 will make Mozilla a great platform for all devices from mobile phones to your desktop," Schroepfer wrote in his blog.

Mobile users are hungry for a good Web browsing experience on their devices. The popularity of iPhone in large part can be attributed to the phone's full Web browser and innovative technology introduced by Apple, which allows users to zoom in and out of a page with their fingers.

Schroepfer argued there are chips available that are faster than the one in the iPhone and integrate graphics, the central processing unit, and Wi-Fi/ 3G/WiMax on one die. There are plenty of opportunities for device makers and their partners to create smartphones that offer better, faster mobile browsing.

Mozilla is part of a larger movement by technology companies to bring a rich Internet experience to mobile devices. Last week, chip designer ARM Holdings partnered with six other companies to develop a new Linux-based open-source platform for ultra-mobile PCs. The platform will include a mobile operating system, application development framework, and Internet browser.

Intel earlier this year introduced its Ultra Mobile Platform 2007 chipset, which will be used in a variety of mobile devices like HTC's upcoming Shift. The chipset is designed to enable a rich and full Internet experience while significantly adding battery life.

Opera Software, Freescale Semiconductor, and NEC this week unveiled a collaborative technology that creates a better browsing experience for people accessing Web sites containing multimedia content on mobile devices. The new technology, with its improved mobile processing and multimedia capabilities, will make it possible to view content like YouTube directly on mobile browsers.

Most of these efforts are just now getting off the ground, so it will be some time before mobile devices with super-fast processors and faultless Web browsers make it into the hands of users.

"It's a big undertaking," Schroepfer admitted. Mobile Firefox won't arrive before next year, which means it will ship after Firefox 3.

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