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Mozilla's new browser is cranking up its performance impressively

Firefox certainly looks geared to make impressive gains in the PC browser marketshare war.  However, with cell phones, smart phones, and other mobile devices being one of the hottest market segments right now, Firefox is serious in its belief that in order to truly become a superpower it must make inroads in these markets. 

The Mozilla Mobile initiative first was announced last October, and after lots of hard work has already reached a functional prototype stage.  The new pre-alpha build codenamed Fennec was presented by Mozilla Mobile director Jay Sullivan, who is gearing up for the August 2008 first alpha build.
Originally it would have been a laughable proposition to consider Firefox on a cell phone.  The browser, notorious for its memory bloat, seemed an unlikely candidate.  However, with Firefox 3 shaping up to be perhaps the leanest next generation browser memorywise, Firefox now certainly seems a viable contender.  Thanks to jemalloc, other memory optimizations, and Javascript speed improvements, the new face of Firefox is a mobile ready one.

Mozilla technical evangelist Chris Blizzard was among those promoting Mozilla's mobile efforts.  He states that the substantial gains on the x86/PC side of the browser market are overshadowed by the even larger respective gains on ARM processors, typically found in smart phones.  As an example he points to the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet which has a browser based on a fork of an early alpha candidate of Firefox 3.  Pitting this earlier Firefox derive browser against Fennec in the SunSpider Javascript benchmark, Fennec showed its power, performing over six times as well as the early browser.

The difference between Fennec and MicroB, the early browser, produced an easily noticeable speed difference.  Typically such differences are more subtle, but with Fennec it was pronounced; the new browser is fast! 

And the Fennec developers aren't just focused on developing a top speed and memory performer.  They also are equipping the browser with an intuitive interface, including touch capabilities, which will make it a natural fit to the mobile environment.  The Fennec browser was based on one of Mozilla's touchscreen mobile interface proposals.

Fennec is not ready for an alpha release yet as many of Firefox's main features need to be added or implemented still.  However it already supports useful inertial scrolling and a single click bookmark system similar to that of Firefox 3.  Support for Mozilla's new AwesomeBar technology will eventually be added, but is not present currently.

"The current build you've got is really just a starting point to give us a framework to start experimenting, doing performance tests, etc.," says Sullivan, "It's a true peek under the hood, and you're able to get that peek because of the unique level of openness we have at Mozilla."

He continues, "Our goal on mobile is to embody the principles that have made Firefox so successful on the desktop, but with the recognition that mobile is different—not so much in that it presents some constraints, but in that it enables new types of experiences, and people's interaction with these devices are different than when they're sitting at their desks.  Web compatibility, security, performance, support for rich internet apps will all be key."

"With existing mobile browsers, it's hard to do basic things like enter URLs, navigate around rich pages, switch between multiple pages, and in general the browser is in a silo separate from the rest of what the phone can do," Sullivan explains, "We're doing some creative thinking about how to make it easier to get to the content you care about, easier to navigate within those pages, easier to seamlessly move between your PC and your phone."

The browser is written with XUL, an XML based language, making it easy to modify and extend the browser by modifying its .xul, .js, and .css files.  The .js file will allow more complex java script extensions, and the system should support full extensions capability similar to Firefox on the PC.  New add-ons are being developed for the browser. 

Developers can even use a XULRunner runtime with XML and JavaScript to create platform-neutral mobile applications, a valuable asset.  Mozilla developer Brad Lassey has shown one such runtime, Maemo and has used it to run PC applications in XUL on Nokia devices.  Lassey has even began to have success runnign XULRunner on Windows Mobile 6, opening a whole new world of compatibility.

Says Sullivan, "To build a great mobile app today, developers need to target one or more native platforms; that limits their reach right out of the box. Then, they need to get those apps in users' hands. It's a nightmare. So, just like we did on the desktop, we need to make the Web a viable platform to develop rich applications for mobile.  That's what we're doing. With full AJAX support, SQLite, and access to device capabilities from JavaScript, we're going to unleash a lot of creativity."

Fennec is currently available in a pre-alpha form for Nokia phones.  To download directly, go here (install file).  To view the roadmap for Fennec, refer here, and lastly for the wiki page of the development team refer here.

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Firefox 3
By daftrok on 4/10/2008 3:07:19 PM , Rating: 2
I am so impressed with Firefox 3. Memory spiking is finally dealt with! I'm surprised that Firefox 3 Beta 5 isn't their final product its so stable, but now I just can't wait until June for the release of Firefox 3.

I'm actually quite surprised how popular it got too:

Who knew more people use it more than IE6 AND IE7 (not combined, but still)? I think Firefox's main attraction is Adblock Plus. Being able to get rid of ads has been a dream ever since Yahoo started putting them in the '90s.

RE: Firefox 3
By CColtManM on 4/10/2008 3:14:09 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry dude, but i think that site for measuring statistics is bogus. It has the number of Linux users VERY close to number of Mac users. That's off.

Use this one, it is credited in big newspapers and magazines...

Firefox is 17% of the market to IE's 74%.

RE: Firefox 3
By daftrok on 4/10/2008 3:52:13 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks that pie chart makes moe sense. I knew Firefox was a bit high.

RE: Firefox 3
By Pops on 4/10/2008 6:23:48 PM , Rating: 3
If you read the disclaimer the W3 Schools(great site, I use it a lot) site has at the bottoms of the stats. It says it doesn't expect its stats to represent general use, because its a technical site and they get more nerds if you will.

RE: Firefox 3
By mforce on 4/11/2008 3:48:15 AM , Rating: 3
I'm not so sure about Mac users being so many compared to Linux users. I know it's true but still , you probably live in the US and that's why you have this feeling. I think here in Romania for instance Linux is probably more popular than Mac.

RE: Firefox 3
By 3v1lkr0w on 4/11/2008 4:56:09 AM , Rating: 2
I would like the think the numbers would be alittle different if the military wasnt under M$. We arent even allowed to have Firefox on our work computers...and being a computer Admin, it pisses me off...I already converted a few dozen people to Firefox since being in the military. ^_^

RE: Firefox 3
By murphyslabrat on 4/11/2008 12:43:17 PM , Rating: 2
Praise the Fox, brother, convert those souls!

RE: Firefox 3
By darkpaw on 4/10/2008 3:19:06 PM , Rating: 2
Keep in mind that is only visitors of that website, sadly a lot more people then that still use IE. I like IE7, but I'll still use FF over it any day.

RE: Firefox 3
By 306maxi on 4/10/2008 3:30:34 PM , Rating: 2
I think Firefox's main attraction is Adblock Plus. Being able to get rid of ads has been a dream ever since Yahoo started putting them in the '90s.

Wouldn't it just be a lot easier just to ignore ads? The vast majority of ads these days are hardly intrusive at all. Plus the revenue helps support the sites you visit which is a good thing.

RE: Firefox 3
By darklight0tr on 4/10/2008 3:37:14 PM , Rating: 2
What about those annoying Flash ads that take over a good portion of the window? I wouldn't call those "hardly intrusive".

I think ads have only gotten more intrusive and annoying, not less.

RE: Firefox 3
By 306maxi on 4/10/08, Rating: 0
RE: Firefox 3
By darklight0tr on 4/10/2008 5:19:33 PM , Rating: 2
I guess for me the fact that I have to close them in the first place is unacceptable.

Also, there has been a steady increase in ads that contain sound, which is usually very annoying.

RE: Firefox 3
By 4wardtristan on 4/10/2008 9:55:42 PM , Rating: 1

say something! say-say-say-say something!!!

(free animated talking cursors/icons/smileyfaces)

RE: Firefox 3
By 306maxi on 4/11/2008 3:32:32 AM , Rating: 3
Wow. It's unacceptable that a site should want to make a little bit of money or at least cover it's operating costs?

RE: Firefox 3
By darklight0tr on 4/11/2008 9:34:20 AM , Rating: 2
I never said that ALL ads were unacceptable.

I don't think they should grossly interfere with your experience on the site or contain obnoxious sounds just to get your attention.

RE: Firefox 3
By sxr7171 on 4/14/2008 12:33:39 PM , Rating: 2
Don't site owners get paid based on clicks? So if you ignore the ads, let's assume you won't be clicking on them. So what's the difference?

RE: Firefox 3
By Zurtex on 4/10/2008 7:17:06 PM , Rating: 2
I do a lot of bug testing for Firefox. Bugs which are marked as blocking Firefox are given a priority rating of 1 - 5, (1 being the most important). To get to the final beta the number of P1 (priority 1) bugs have to be reduced to 0, which is what happened with Beta 5.

To release the first Release Candidate the number of P2 bugs must be reduced to 0. I can tell you now there are a lot of important P2 bugs remaining, I've been following a particularly hazardous one since I confirmed it: could cause a lot of spin off bugs.

Mozilla developers really want to get Firefox 3 right, so quality is very important. They'd rather get things very well tuned than just let it release because it's so much better than Firefox 2 already.

Need more
By FITCamaro on 4/10/2008 3:19:06 PM , Rating: 3
Support for Mozilla's new AwesomeBar technology will eventually be added, but is not present currently.

Can more product developers come up with features that include the word "awesome"?

"Introducing the razor from Gillette, the Awesome6!!!"
"Introducing the Chevy Awesome!"
"Introducing the Apple Awesome! Now you truly can be awesome! Because you're buying a Mac and that makes you awesomely better than everyone else who isn't awesome!"

Sorry got carried away on that last one...

RE: Need more
By darkpaw on 4/10/2008 3:20:01 PM , Rating: 2
Wouldn't that be the Apple iAwesome?

RE: Need more
By FITCamaro on 4/10/2008 3:21:46 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry. My bad. ;)

RE: Need more
By murphyslabrat on 4/11/2008 12:47:04 PM , Rating: 2
It really wouldn't sell that well, as most Apple customers already think they have it.

RE: Need more
By Zurtex on 4/10/2008 7:25:15 PM , Rating: 2
The AwesomeBar is the codename really more than the product name.

It's not really marketing that came up with that, just makes it easy to refer to when talking about it in developer meetings.

It's not the first iteration to try and replace the SmartBar in Firefox, before Awesome bar was SmartBar2, which looked shockingly close to what Microsoft has released for IE8 Beta1.

AM I the only one who just doesn't care?
By 306maxi on 4/10/2008 3:28:54 PM , Rating: 3
Really who cares?

Back when it was IE6 vs Firefox I could understand why people (myself included) used Firefox. IE6 really was a PoS browser and even though Firefox had it's memory leaks it was a far superior browser unless a spyware infestation was your idea of fun.

But now we have IE7 and soon enough we'll have IE8. Both of which seem very good, very functional and very stable browsers. Although to be fair they don't work to web standards which is a bit of a problem.

Never quite understood this whole "I'm 1337 because I can block all the ads on webpages with my firefox extensions" attitude that some people have. Firstly because websites like dailytech depend on ad revenue to survive and secondly because ads (other than popups) are generally not very intrusive and epileptic fit inducing silly flashing ads aren't nearly as common these days.

RE: AM I the only one who just doesn't care?
By AlphaVirus on 4/10/2008 3:45:19 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I can agree with everything you said. At one point I used both Firefox and Internet Explorer for about 2 years straight just to dig deep into their functions, usasbility, and stability. Overall they are quite equal, if you are an average web browser (like myself at times) both are perfect.
The only ads that bother me are the ones that are vocal and the ads that follow my screen when I scroll up or down. The ones that take up the entire screen just press alt+F4, thats about it.

One day we will have about 3 different interweb browsers to fight over. One will let you see sites in 3D but it will give you seizures, 2nd will be the fastest but will only show pages smaller than 100KB, 3rd will be virus-proof but it will have a billion pr0n ads pop up!
What a perfect free-world we live in :)

RE: AM I the only one who just doesn't care?
By exanimas on 4/10/2008 3:52:02 PM , Rating: 2
Where can I get this 3rd web browser you speak of?

By ninjit on 4/10/2008 5:43:23 PM , Rating: 2
Safari is generally considered the 3rd major browser after IE and firefox, Opera is also another option.

By JWalk on 4/10/2008 3:38:08 PM , Rating: 2
I currently use Opera Mini on my smartphone. But I am curious about this new browser from Mozilla.

It would have to be pretty phenomenal though to get me to switch over. Opera Mini has been outstanding. Before I discovered it, my phone's internet capabilities were almost never used (because mobile IE is god-awful).

But now I use it all the time. I am even using it to make this post. :)

RE: Interesting...
By cyyc009 on 4/10/2008 4:07:46 PM , Rating: 2
I LOVED Opera. I have never tried Opera mini, but I'm guessing that it has features reminiscent of Opera's speed and light memory usage. The only reason I went back to Firefox (using Firefox 3 Beta 5 right now) was because Opera didn't load some pages right (yahoo mail, for one). That's why I'm really worried about the Firefox team expanding into the mobile platform market. Even in Beta 5, the memory hole issue is still present. If that bug isn't going anywhere, neither will the idea of Firefox on mobile devices. It just won't fly.

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