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Mobile Firefox vs. iPhone's Safari browser

Mozilla's mobile Firefox nears release

You may be one of the 29 million people who have already downloaded Firefox 3.0. But are you ready for Firefox for mobile?

Later this summer, Mozilla hopes to unveil an alpha release of Mobile Firefox. A beta release could be available by year-end.

The development project for mobile Firefox, with the code name Fennec (a species of fox), was launched in October 2007. It promises to deliver in open source a full, power-efficient web-browsing capability for smartphones and other mobile devices.

Mobile browsing was transformed by Apple's iPhone, with its touchscreen user interface and on-board, proprietary Safari browser. Though not the first full mobile browser (Opera Mobile was one forerunner), Safari threw a dramatic light on web access from handhelds.

"With the iPhone, people have a sense that they can or should be able to browse the full web," says Jay Sullivan, vice president of mobile for Mozilla. "We're in that camp: We're going for the full Web."

The Safari way

Unlike many other early mobile browsers, Safari can access existing websites directly, instead of sites with content stripped down and tailored for the small screens and keyboards of handhelds. It can give full access to some Microsoft SharePoint sites, for example. In addition, Safari's touch interface makes it easier for users to manipulate web pages.

Mobile Firefox is one of several efforts to bring the full web to mobile devices, a major step forward from the so-called microbrowsers that for the most part have made surfing the web on a handheld a cumbersome, frustrating process. Start-up Skyfire Labs and Bitstream's ThunderHawk are two other efforts, both of which run the browser instance on a server.

Mobile Firefox wants to outstrip Safari in ease of use and performance while opening up the browser so users can extend its features as dramatically and easily as they can today with the desktop product. "It's for websites that people [today] are living in and working with," Sullivan says. "People browsing the web from a mobile device don't expect an 'alternative universe' which lacks features they're used to."


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