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Mozilla Fennec is coming to Android this fall, and is likely coming to Windows Mobile 7 next.  (Source: Mozilla)
Speedy mobile Firefox may help spur Android adoption

The Android mobile operating system may get a boost late this fall from Mozilla, which is developing a mobile version of Firefox (dubbed Fennec) for the Google handset OS. The Open Handset Alliance, the group comprised of Google and other mobile phone companies, made the browser possible by recently releasing an NDK (native development kit) which allowed native C/C++ code to be incorporated into apps for the first time. 

Previously, all apps had been written in Java.  Java is considered by many app developers to be inferior both in speed and library functionality for mobile apps to C/C++.  The iPhone, one of Google's key competitors, already uses a flavor of C in its apps (Objective C, to be precise).

With C support in place, Mozilla decided it was practical to port Fennec to Android.  Mozilla's Mobile VP Jay Sullivan describes, "It's a modern OS, and it's a great fit with us. It's the type of platform that has a high affinity with the early adopter, and it's seen a lot of uptake.  Android has been built on a Java platform, whereas [Firefox Mobile] is based on C and C++ code. Until last year when [the Open Handset Alliance] released the NDK (native development kit) which allowed native code as part of the app, it was simply impossible."

Currently the build is in the alpha stage.  

Mozilla is also eying other platforms as Fennec candidates.  Among them is Microsoft's Windows Mobile.  Microsoft just announced Windows Phone 7 Series, which is likely to be the most anticipated mobile release of the fall.  Windows Phone 7 Series scraps the previous code base in favor of an OS based on the Zune HD's operating system.

A dilemma facing Mozilla is whether to support Windows Mobile 6.5 and lose time on Windows Phone 7 Series development, or give up on aging operating system.  Describes Sullivan, "Now we have the decision: do we target Windows Mobile 6.5 or 7? How much architecture will there be to work with?"

Currently Mozilla's Windows Mobile 6.5 build is in alpha.

Nokia, which recently formed a new alliance with Intel dubbed MeeGo, will also continue to be supported by Mozilla.  Describes Sullivan, "Nokia has been a great partner for us, helped Firefox Mobile to get better, and we hope that continues.  Mozilla has also been in Moblin (Intel's previous Linux-based platform) for a while, and that company has contributed a lot over the years.  It all lines up pretty well, although I don't know how it will all shake out."

The browser's only official release versions have been for Nokia's Maemo OS, which encompasses the N900/N810 smartphones.

Mozilla's biggest competitor in the mobile browsing arena is Opera.  Opera, the top mobile browser maker, is currently trying to get its Opera Mini browser iPhone approved.  If it can win app approval, it will look to increase its marketshare even more significantly even as Mozilla prepares its counterstrike.

Mozilla's Sullivan and Tristan Nitot president of Mozilla Europe have previously said that there is no way it would make an iPhone browser as Apple is too restrictive.  It also nixed making a Blackberry browser, a key business for Opera.  It says the Blackberry's operating system is too limited for a rich browser.





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