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What gives Firefox 'Fennec' the mobile edge

An add-on for Mozilla's mobile Firefox browser, which might just end up being called Firefox, will keep you from time-consuming typing.

Fennec logo

LAS VEGAS--At CTIA 2009 on Thursday morning, I sat down with Mozilla's Jay Sullivan, vice president of mobile, to get a hands-on demo of Firefox's in-development mobile browser, code-named Fennec.

In addition to using Fennec on a Nokia N810 Internet Tablet with my own two hands instead of on a desktop emulator, I also saw a new feature in action that is poised to give Fennec the edge over rivals, when it enters the mobile-browsing marketplace.

During our meeting, Sullivan also dispensed with a few more details about Fennec's road map and hinted at a final name.

First, the name: I've been calling the app-to-be "Firefox Mobile" because for nearly everyone outside of the tech bubble, "Fennec" just won't cut it. When I asked for a clue, Sullivan replied that "mini" or "mobile" implies a watered-down browsing experience.

"We want to create something worthy of being called Firefox," Sullivan said. This means there's a good chance that Firefox for mobile phones may be named just plain "Firefox," with separate mobile builds being designated by operating system--Firefox for Windows, Mac, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and so on. Thinking about transition devices such as Netbooks or future phone-laptop hybrids, Sullivan said, makes you question the distinction between what's "mobile" and what's "standard."

Second, the edge: Mozilla's attitude toward Fennec's future name heavily hints at what it can do. A few weeks ago, Fennec took on support for Firefox extensions. One of these is Weave, an add-on that on the desktop backs up your "Awesome Bar" contents--bookmarks, passwords, and browsing history.

When used in conjunction with Fennec, Weave synchronizes these between your desktop and mobile phone, which can save you tons of typing when you're starting a search. It can also populate your bookmarks and commonly used search terms, so you don't have to spend an hour setting up your new Fennec browser to mirror Firefox.

What's more--and this was the slickest use case by far--whichever tabs you had up when you left the desktop, you can pick up again on Fennec. The Weave add-on is ready to try, if you have Firefox 3.5 beta installed on your desktop.

Weave syncing icon on Fennec
The Weave add-n sits just below the tabs when you swipe the screen to the right. Mozilla

While Opera has already implemented a similar content-syncing service, Opera Link, to sync bookmarks, search history, and notes between all Opera browsers, on the mobile phone, Fennec's implementation of the concept looks faster and easier to work with when it comes to open tabs.

On Fennec, you'll slide the screen to the right, tap a small button, and see a list of your synced sites. Search bar content from the desktop will appear when you begin typing a term or URL.

Third, the road map: Fennec beta 1 is already available for Nokia N810 Internet Tablets, and Sullivan says he expects one or two more beta cycles before the application will be released for Nokia's Linux-based Maemo platform sometime in summer. After that, Mozilla hopes to kick off a beta version for Windows Mobile by the end of the third quarter, followed by a Symbian version later this year.