File Under: Browsers, Mobile

Early Version of Firefox Lands on Android Phones

Fennec pre-alpha running on Android (Click for larger). <em>Pic courtesy of Mozilla</em>

Fennec pre-alpha running on Android (Click for larger). Pic courtesy of Mozilla

The mobile version of Firefox, known by code-name Fennec, is now available for testing on the Android mobile platform.

Details are on Firefox engineer Vladimir Vukicevic’s blog.

Fennec for Android is a pre-alpha release, so please be aware that it’s buggy and could freeze your phone, requiring a reboot. Also, memory handling hasn’t been optimized yet, so it might choke or crash your phone when trying to load large pages. Mozilla says Fennec for Android has only been tested on Motorola Droid and Nexus One phones running Android 2.0 and up, so your mileage will certainly vary on other phones.

Still, it’s exciting to see Firefox making its way onto Google’s open source Android platform after months of development. The tiny browser has already shipped on Nokia’s high-end mobiles. I was able to thoroughly test and review Firefox for Nokia’s Maemo OS, and I found it replicated the experience of using the desktop version of Firefox extremely well, even on a much smaller screen.

From the looks of it, Firefox on Android will borrow many of the same design innovations that made the Nokia/Maemo version a pleasure to use. One very cool thing is already available: An experimental version of Weave has been hacked together for this build, so you can sync all your Firefox bookmarks and settings to Android right from the get-go.

The final version will be ready later this year, Mozilla says. The work done here should lend itself to other Android implementations of Firefox in the future, including a larger version for any Android tablets now in development.

Once fully baked on Android, Firefox will play a vital part in shaping the rapid growth of the mobile web. At this point, the development of websites for mobiles has been largely geared towards making them look good on the iPhone and, to a lesser extent, Opera Mobile and Android’s native browser. Android’s browser and Mobile Safari use the same WebKit layout engine, and Opera uses its own.

Adding Firefox (which uses different layout and JavaScript engines) into the mix not only encourages designers to build all-inclusive mobile-web experiences that work across multiple browsers and screen sizes, but it should also help foster the growth of HTML5 mobile apps. All of the modern mobile browsers support the key elements of the emerging standard, even if they all support HTML5 components differently.

Vukicevic has more details about Firefox for Android on his blog, including system requirements, instructions on how to install it, how to troubleshoot it and where to send feedback. There’s also a Google Group dedicated to Fennec on Android.

A fennec, BTW, is an adorable little fox with giant bunny ears. Flickr has a lot of them.

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