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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.

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