Partners Give Thumbs Up To Mozilla's Mobile Firefox Plan

Partners are pumped up about Mozilla's plans to take its popular desktop Firefox internet Web browser to the mobile world.

Mozilla Vice President Of Engineering Mike Schroepfer shook up the blogosphere on Monday by proclaiming in his schrep's blog schrep's blog that the open source internet browser provider plans to "rock" the mobile world with a version of Firefox. "People ask us all the time about what Mozilla's going to do about the mobile Web, and I'm very excited to announce that we plan to rock it," wrote Scrhoepfer.

The problem is the shock waves won't be felt for some time. Schroepfer said the new mobile version of Firefox that he has engineers working on won't arrive "before 2008."

That hasn't seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of solution providers looking forward to Firefox on mobile devices.

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Rob Hart, business development director for Data Technique, a Kansas City solution provider that is building enterprise identity management applications, applauded Mozilla's plan to build a mobile version of Firefox. "It would be a boost to us and what we do with identity management in that extending it to mobile devices would mean greater benefits for users," he said. "Bandwidth and screen formatting are the hurdles they need to overcome. When you do identity management you are generally speaking about enterprise applications, including Web applications and 32 bit applications. It could be a long time before a lot of those applications are going to be effectively utilized from a mobile device. Right now many of our clients are just using their mobile devices for email and not taking advantage of identity management on mobile. This could help with that. Anything that speeds that up is great."

Hart said most of his current clients are using both Firefox and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. As for himself, Hart said he usually has both Firefox and Internet Explorer open on his desktop but uses Firefox 70 percent of the time. He said his clients will gravitate toward the browser that works best for them.

Tyler Dikman, the president and CEO of Cooltronics, a Tampa, Fla. solution provider, said he is looking forward to the Mozilla mobile development effort since most "mobile browsers don't even come close to a desktop experience." The biggest problem even with the popular Apple iPhone is most mobile device browsers don't support Flash, which is a problem in an age when more users are watching You Tube video clips, he said. "The iPhone is supposed to be the most technologically advanced mobile browser enabled phone and it doesn't even take advantage of flash with its Safari browser," said Dikman.

CoolTronics is working on an instant messenger application called Flick IM for iPhone and desktop browsers which is limited on the iPhone because of the lack of flash support.

"The demand is very high for a fully functional browser for Smart Phones," said Dikman. "This is a big step forward because Firefox was the first real alternative to Internet Explorer in a long time. The Firefox browser is light weight, easy to use and it keeps your computer running very quickly. Internet Explorer is pretty sluggish compared to Firefox."

"If Mozilla incorporates the key principles of their desktop browser in mobile form, namely being lightweight, functional and open to outside developers, it will be a slam dunk," said Dikman. "Right now the mobile phone space is very different from the desktop in terms of the internet experience. Hopefully this will be something that bridges the gap."

Dikman said that the research and development effort associated with a mobile version of Firefox will be significant. "Each of these phones has a different processor and resolution and pretty much requires a different operating system," he said. "They are going to have to have several different versions. It's a big project."

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Schroepfer, for its part, said the new mobile version of Firefox for mobile devices will be a robust version of the browser that is already being used by 100 million users. It will run Firefox extensions on mobile devices and allow third parties to build rich applications via XUL, he said.

"The user demand for a full browsing experience on mobile devices is clear," said Schroepfer. "If you weren't sure about this before you should be after the launch of the iPhone."

"There is far from a dominant player in this marketplace and even the best mobile browsers today have compromises in user experience, performance, and compatibility," asserted Scrhoepfer. "There is still plenty of room for innovation."

Scrhoepfer said the new Firefox mobile platform effort effectively puts an end to the "Minimo" (Mini-Mozilla) open source project which resulted in a version of Mozilla for Windows mobile devices, including Hewlett Packard iPaq. He called the Minimo effort "an experiment in mapping the desktop browser experience to a specific mobile context" with no plan to develop that project further.

Scrhoepfer said Mozilla has not yet targeted what mobile platforms the Firefox mobile browser will work on. But the company has already moved to expand its small team of mobile contributors.

Christian Sejersen, recently the head of browsers at Openwave, a Redwood City Calif. software maker which has shipped over one billion mobile browsers, joined Mozilla on Oct. 9. Sejersen will be heading up the platform engineering effort and setting up an R&D center in Copenhagen, Denmark, said Scrhoepfer

In addition, Brad Lassey, who's been an active contributor to the Mozilla open source mobile efforts, just joined Mozilla from France Telecom R&D.

"A large portion of the world accesses the Internet from mobile devices, and this will become increasingly true over time (mobile devices outsell computers 20-1)," said Scrhoepfer. "Each Firefox install is an individual choice by a person to download something that didn't ship by default on their computer. Why not offer that option for mobile devices?"