Mobile Firefox out to break industry hold on device apps

Free mobile browser depends on carriers, handset makers, stepping aside.

By developing a version of its open source desktop Firefox Web browser to run on mobile devices, Mozilla hopes to break the hold some handset makers and carriers have on what mobile applications consumers can use, an executive of the company says.

"People don't want restrictions or differences between what their mobile device can do and what their laptop can do," said Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla's vice president of engineering, in a Network World interview following his widely reported blog posting of Mozilla's plans to introduce Firefox Mobile, possibly later next year.

"Part of our mission is ... to make sure consumers have their choice of applications and devices and aren't restricted by choices from the carriers or the device manufacturers," Schroepfer said.

Largely by word-of-mouth, 120 million computer users worldwide chose to download the free open source-based Firefox onto their desktop and laptop computers since it was introduced in 2004.

The Mozilla Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports the Mozilla open source community while Mozilla, a for-profit subsidiary of the foundation, markets Mozilla products such as Firefox and the recently-introduced Thunderbird e-mail application.

Traditionally in the US, wireless carriers dictate to handset makers the specifications and features of phones they will support on their network. Also, Apple recently faced criticism for limitations it places on customer use of its iPhone devices. Apple only allows third party applications to run on iPhones through its Safari Web browser and does not support apps installed directly on the device. And after learning some users were able to unlock their iPhones and use them on a network other Apple's chosen AT&T, Apple issued a software upgrade that disabled those iPhones.

"I would have difficulty giving you examples, historically, in technology battles, where closed solutions won over open solutions in the long run," said Schroepfer.

Mozilla has recently stepped up efforts to develop Firefox Mobile, he said, but it won't be available before the release of Firefox 3, a beta version of which is due later this year with a final version expected in the first half of 2008.

The catalyst for Mobile Firefox is the move to mobile devices for Web access, Schroepfer says, citing industry statistics that mobile devices outsell personal computers worldwide by a margin of 20-to-1.

Also, handheld devices are improving to offer a richer browsing experience. He cited the iPhone, with 128MB of RAM and up to a 600MHz processor, and the Nokia N800, a handheld offering Web access and e-mail that also features 128MB of RAM, as both "reasonably capable" of offering a decent browsing experience.

He expects that the sophistication of mobile devices will improve steadily in the next few years to offer the same performance as a laptop or desktop computer.

But here's the point, Schroepfer said: Nokia ported the Firefox browser to its N800 on its own. Mozilla knew about it and offered some advice, "but they did it mostly on their own."

"That's the beauty of open source," he said. "They don't need to sign a contract or break out the lawyers. They can just grab the code and do what they want."

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert Mullins

Network World
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?