Mobile browsing has historically been a painful experience and countless handset and software makers have created mobile browsers hoping to make them easier to use. While mobile browser development from the likes of Apple, Google and Microsoft is unlikely to cease because of Fennec, other mobile browser efforts may, Sullivan said. "When our browser is ready, a lot of folks will stop building custom browsers," he said. "Carriers and OEMs are telling me they'd rather ship Firefox rather than hack together their own browser."
While he wouldn't reveal names, Sullivan said that Mozilla is talking to handset makers and operators about preloading Fennec onto phones. Traditionally, only a very small percentage of phone users load applications onto their phones so preloading the browser could significantly help distribution.
This isn't the first time that Mozilla has begun work on a mobile browser and most of its previous attempts have fizzled. For several years it worked on a mobile browser it called Minimo that included a release for Windows Mobile devices. But last year Mozilla said it wouldn't continue work on that browser, instead focusing on Fennec, which is based on the latest Mozilla platform that also supports Firefox.
Mozilla also developed and later retired a project called Joey that let people save portions of Web sites while on their PC and call up those images from their mobile phones.
While Mozilla has been working on those projects, Apple released its iPhone and included a mobile version of its Safari browser. That browser has been widely praised as a significant improvement over historical mobile browsers because it displays Web pages just as they look on a computer but allows users to easily scroll around and examine the page. Next week the first phone running Google's Android software will hit the market and it includes a browser developed by Google and based on Webkit, the same technology that fuels Safari. That browser offers a similar improved experience but one-ups Apple's Safari because it can display Flash Web sites.
Mozilla expects to make the alpha download for the Nokia tablets available on Thursday from its Mozilla.org Web site.