Can Mozilla revolutionize the mobile browser?

The technical barriers hampering the mobile browsing experience are nothing compared to the psychological barriers undermining the PC browsing experience. So says Mozilla Foundation chairman Mitchell Baker, speaking last week at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco--promising the upcoming mobile Firefox browser, codenamed "Fennec," will simplify and improve mobile browsing as well as herald a rich new platform for developer innovation, Baker said devices should not impose limits on user access to Internet data, sites and applications. "Because [mobile is] a new area, mental constraints of what we can do...are much less," she said, blaming the failures of PC browsing on decades of deeply ingrained usage patterns. "Mental constraints are often the hardest to get past."

Anticipation for Fennec is running high, and with good reason: According to a recent study issued by European web metrics company Xiti, the open-source Firefox web browser now controls 29 percent of browser market share in Europe, suggesting consumer interest should be significant. More importantly, the early Fennec reviews are positive: Ars Technica recently previewed pre-alpha test builds of the Fennec prototype, and said its initial concerns over performance and memory efficiency were assuaged by major improvements in both areas, with memory optimizations reducing Firefox's footprint and JavaScript performance also on the upswing. And in a blog entry, Mozilla technical evangelist Chris Blizzard writes that Fennec boasts JavaScript execution almost six times faster than the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet's default browser MicroB, which is based on source code from the Firefox Alpha 1 timeframe.

But back to the user experience, which is where Fennec will succeed or fail. Mozilla Mobile director Jay Sullivan has said flexible and intuitive user interfaces are paramount to the development process, and the Fennec prototype is based on a Mozilla touchscreen mobile interface proposal. Mozilla is seeking developer feedback on browser and UI modifications as well. As for Fennec applications, Mozilla said it wishes to make web applications accessible to mobile users, reducing requirements for native, mobile-specific apps and expanding the possibilities for multi-platform development. If Fennec can deliver on its promises and make the mobile web easier for users and developers alike, the barriers--technical, mental and everything in between--will topple for good. -Jason