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Mozilla targets mobile browser market

The Mozilla Foundation claims to be working with various phone manufacturers, who are already using Minimo, a 'mini-Mozilla' browser for consumer devices
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor
Mozilla is hoping to move on from its success in the browser desktop market, to tackle the market for browsers on consumer devices, such as phones, PDAs and television set-top boxes.

Doug Turner, the project leader of Minimo, the slimmed-down Mozilla browser, said that Mozilla hopes to build on the success of Firefox.

"If Firefox is the greatest browser on the desktop, we need the greatest browser on devices and are working hard on it," said Turner.

Turner said there are two mobile phone companies that are already using Minimo. He cannot reveal the names of the companies that it is working with, but said there will be at least one announcement in the near future regarding a partnership with a TV manufacturer.

"The focus over the last year and a half has been about going after the phone device and set-top manufacturers -- showing them what we can do," said Turner. "We are being used, but companies have kept it quiet."

This market will be harder to tackle than the desktop browser market, as manufacturers rather than consumers make the choice on which browser to use. "We can showcase things to consumers -- to show them what they should get from their phone -- but the bigger thing is to show the manufacturers that they can embed Mozilla into their device," said Turner.

Due to its emphasis on the OEM market, developers have only created a build of Minimo 0.1 for the ARM architecture, although Turner said he will release a build for the Intel architecture soon, so that consumers can try out the technology.

Minimo developers have already found a solution to the problem of rendering Web pages on small devices. This feature was included in both version 0.1 and 0.2 of Minimo. Turner claims that this solution is already better than some products in the marketplace.

"A lot of browsers ignore frames or have limited Javascript support -- they do terrible jobs," said Turner. "With Minimo, if it renders OK in Firefox, it will render OK in Minimo."

The technology works by shrinking less important images, such as banner ads, and wrapping columns around to make a single column, so that users only need to scroll vertically.

Minimo 0.3, which is due in January, will include improved Web page navigation for mobile phone users, said Turner. At present, phone users need to linearly tab through every link on the page to get to the right link, but the new technology will allow users to move between links on the Web page using the arrow keys.

"We have the proof of concept working right," said Turner. "The hard part is working out where the next closest link is -- it is a hard maths or computer science problem. You need fuzzy logic."

For this technology to work, mobile phone manufacturers will need to map each arrow direction to an individual phone key. Minimo 0.3 will also automatically complete URLs as they are being typed in.

Developers are also working on functionality to allow users to zoom in and out of Web pages, so that they can easily find what they are looking for, said Turner. "If you go to the Web on a little screen you don't have any idea of where everything is," said Turner. "For example, on a phone the 'Contact' link can be hard to find. If you could back out of the page it would be easier."

The first demo of this technology is likely to be available before June, said Turner.

Minimo's main competitor in the mobile phone browsing market is Opera, which produces versions of its browser for various mobile phones including Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Panasonic and Siemens handsets.

But Turner said there is definitely a demand for an alternative to Opera from set-top box and phone manufacturers, which don't want to pay royalties. Another advantage of Minimo is that it is fully standards compliant and is compatible with various platforms.

"We can be ported to many platforms that Opera can’t," said Turner. "Mozilla has been developed to work on every flavour of Unix and every type of processor, chip or widget set."

A spokeswoman for Opera said that Mozilla doesn't have as much experience of developing for mobile platforms. "These are interesting comments, although I am not sure that delivering on many flavours of Unix is going to get you onto very many mobile phones," said the spokeswoman. "We have been working on mobile browsers for six years."

The spokeswoman added that Opera works on numerous operating systems. "We support all major processors in the market and you can not only run Opera on Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris and FreeBSD, but also on SymbianOS, Windows Mobile, Brew, MicroItron and more are coming. I believe this is the most extensive list in the market, and it is all with the same source code."

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