Mobile Firefox "Fennec" critical to maintaining Mozilla's momentum

Now that Firefox 3 has launched, the Mozilla team is (hopefully after a vacation) at work on the next updates, including a major mobile version.Mozilla’s mobile web browser, which is under development as part of Firefox 4 platform and code named Fennec, won’t launch until 2009.

Now that Firefox 3 has launched, the Mozilla team is (hopefully after a vacation) at work on the next updates, including a major mobile version.

Mozilla’s mobile web browser, which is under development as part of Firefox 4 platform and code named Fennec, won’t launch until 2009. Still, the team is planning to release the first alpha version by the end of August and a viable beta by year’s end, according to Mozilla.org. Fennec is expected to reach another milestone on June 20 with the release of M4. 

Fennec is a very important release for the Firefox team, given the increasing use of mobile devices as computing platforms.  The big question: will leading web browsers retain their installed base on mobile devices or lose out to emerging platforms such as Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone?

It's not clear where the two leading web browsers will end up in the mobile space. Microsoft owns more than 75 percent share of the desktop browser market but has plodded along with Windows Mobile and its mobile version of Internet Explorer for years with limited success.

With Firefox 3 now behind them, the big push for Firefox 4 – including the mobile version dubbed Fennec – is on. According to current estimates based on Net Applications' assertion that Firefox 3 has garnered four percent market share in its first two days on the market, Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 combined now have more than 20 percent market share. Still, Mozilla has not yet shipped a mobile version in the marketplace.  

Enter Fennec. Introduced at the Web 2.0 conference in April, Mozilla’s "Fennec" is getting closer to release. Much of the heavy platform work including footprint, memory management and performance optimization has been done over the last 10 months and while at the very early stages, a preview will be in the public's hands by the end of the year.

What will it look like? According to information on Mozilla.org site, Fennec will offer a new mobile user interface, of course, along with blazing fast startup, extensive offline support, bookmark synchronization across multiple devices (ie desktop and mobile device), spatial navigation, fish lens zoom, electronic wallet support, awesome bar URL entry, mobile firebug, soft keyboard and spellcheck.

And tons more. In a recent meeting in Boston, two key Firefox developers said there is a huge emphasis on mobile use in the next Firefox release and for Fennec and that Mozilla is making the rounds talking to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of mobile devices and carriers to push the idea of web surfing on mobile devices. Mozilla has even chatted with the RIM folks in Canada about porting Fennec to the Blackberry. What a joy that would be:  checking e-mail on smartphones is a breeze but surfing the web is still a chore.

With more than 8.4 million downloads of Firefox 3 in its first 24 hours on market, Mozilla has much to celebrate. Prior to its launch, Mozilla had garnered more than 18 percent market share, a whopping sum considering pundits' early predictions that no browser would amass sizable share against Microsoft Internet Explorer. I'm guessing Firefox 3 -- with its top performance and awesome bar search and bookmarking features -- will help Mozilla reach 25 percent market share in no time at all. And 30 percent? By year's end.

But mobile is still a big void and one that needs to be quickly addressed by Mozilla in order to keep the Firefox train chugging along.

"Throughout 2009, you’ll see Fennec being improved with a lot of innovations and new ideas and experiences,” Mitchell Baker said at Web 2.0 speech on Fennec. 

Can't wait to see.

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