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Mobile Firefox vs. iPhone's Safari browser

Mozilla's mobile Firefox nears release

The desktop Firefox

The first step is using the just-released desktop Firefox 3.0. Users will find many of the same features in the mobile browser, notably the new, 'awesome bar', which is a vastly smarter URL box that can be used to do keyword searches of your URL history and bookmarks. Firefox 3.0 also includes improved security and uses vastly less memory than Firefox 2.0. The awesome bar will be even more important on the phone, because typing with a phone keypad is so laborious, Sullivan says.

The core of all this innovation is the heart of mobile Firefox. The mobile browser will use the same core HTML Gecko rendering engine that's found in desktop Firefox, with full JavaScript capability and AJAX (a set of tools and features for building interactive web applications). Gecko is also used in the ThunderHawk mobile browser, and the browser Nokia developed for its Nokia N810 internet tablet.

The results of the open development process over the past 10 months have been impressive, says Kerry McGuire, director of strategic software alliances for British chip maker ARM.

ARM licenses its CPU technology to such wireless giants as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and others for a wide range of mobile devices. A couple of ARM engineers have been actively engaged in the mobile Firefox project, studying the issues of porting it to a range of the company's chip platforms, including several scheduled for release in early 2009.

McGuire says ARM noted two major innovations in the browser. One was quick work in slashing still further the amount of memory needed to run. "That's a tremendous contribution," she says.

Second was a dramatic improvement in how fast the JavaScript scripting language runs. "JavaScript is quite CPU-intensive," McGuire says. "We've seen a greater than five times performance improvement [in mobile Firefox]. Users will see this mainly in improved responsiveness."

Both changes were accomplished within months of the project's launch last fall, McGuire says. "Watching the code base change so quickly, so positively, that's a 'wow' moment for me," she says.

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