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Mozilla aims for mobile browser market

Various phone manufacturers are already using Minimo, a slimmed-down browser for mobile devices, Mozilla project leader says.

Mozilla is hoping to move on from its success in the browser desktop market to tackle browsers on consumer devices such as phones, PDAs and television set-top boxes.

Doug Turner, the project leader of Minimo, the slimmed-down Mozilla browser, said Mozilla hopes to build on the success of Firefox.

"If Firefox is the greatest browser on the desktop, we need the greatest browser on devices and are working hard on it," Turner said.

Turner said there are two mobile phone companies that are already using Minimo. He would not reveal the names of the companies that it is working with, but he said there will be at least one announcement in the near future regarding a partnership with a television manufacturer.

"The focus over the last year and a half has been about going after the phone device and set-top manufacturers--showing them what we can do," Turner said. "We are being used, but companies have kept it quiet."

This industry will be harder to tackle than the desktop browser market, as manufacturers rather than consumers make the choice on which browser to use. "We can showcase things to consumers--to show them what they should get from their phone--but the bigger thing is to show the manufacturers that they can embed Mozilla into their device," Turner said.

Minimo developers have already found a solution to the problem of rendering Web pages on small devices. This feature was included in both version 0.1 and 0.2 of Minimo. Turner said this solution is already better than some products on the market.

"A lot of browsers ignore frames or have limited JavaScript support--they do terrible jobs," he said. "With Minimo, if it renders OK in Firefox, it will render OK in Minimo."

The technology works by shrinking less-important images, such as banner ads, and wrapping columns around to make a single column, so users only need to scroll vertically.

Minimo 0.3, due in January, will include improved Web page navigation for mobile phone users, Turner said. At present, phone users need to linearly tab through every link on the page to get to the right link, but the new technology will let people move between links on the Web page using the arrow keys.

"We have the proof of concept working right," Turner said. "The hard part is working out where the next closest link is--it is a hard math or computer-science problem. You need fuzzy logic."

For this technology to work, mobile phone manufacturers will need to map each arrow direction to an individual phone key. Minimo 0.3 will also automatically complete URLs as they are being typed in.

Developers also are working on a feature that would let people zoom in and out of Web pages, so they could easily find what they were looking for, Turner said. "If you go to the Web on a little screen, you don't have any idea of where everything is," he said. "For example, on a phone the 'Contact' link can be hard to find. If you could back out of the page it would be easier."

The first demonstration of this technology will likely be available before June, Turner said.

Minimo's main competitor in the mobile phone browsing market is Opera Software, which produces versions of its browser for various mobile phones including Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Panasonic and Siemens handsets.

But Turner said there is definitely a demand for an alternative to Opera from set-top box and phone manufacturers, which don't want to pay royalties. Another advantage of Minimo is that it is fully standards compliant and is compatible with various platforms.

"We can be ported to many platforms that Opera can't," he said. "Mozilla has been developed to work on every flavor of Unix and every type of processor, chip or widget set."

A spokeswoman for Opera said Mozilla doesn't have as much experience in developing for mobile technologies. "These are interesting comments, although I am not sure that delivering on many flavors of Unix is going to get you onto very many mobile phones," she said. "We have been working on mobile browsers for six years."

The spokeswoman added that Opera works on numerous operating systems. "We support all major processors in the market," she said. "You can not only run Opera on Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris and FreeBSD, but also on SymbianOS, Windows Mobile, Brew, MicroItron--and more are coming. I believe this is the most extensive list in the market, and it is all with the same source code."

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.