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Firefox Mobile: will it ever be able to compete?

Firefox Mobile: will it ever be able to compete?

Firefox Mobile emerged last week in pre-alpha form on Android. The much-hyped browser, also known as Fennec, has been talked up for well over a year and touted as a killer alternative to Opera Mini and Safari. So why has it taken so long for it to reach even this shaky stage? And will we ever see it land properly in the Android Market, or even the Apple App Store?

The Nokia N900 has been packing Firefox Mobile since its inception at the back end of 2009. But a web access point which has been billed as better than Safari’s trailblazing efforts and Opera’s speedy skills has not garnered the winning headlines it would have hoped. The version on the N900 is good. But it’s nowhere near as sleek and intuitive as had been hoped from the purveyors of the uber-popular Firefox open source browser, favoured by so many Mac and PC users.

Its arrival as a pre-alpha release for Android is undoubtedly promising. But why the delay? The man behind the early release, a developer called Vlad1, says the early build he’s got working on a Motorola Milestone and Google Nexus One is nowhere near being the finished article. You can’t get it from Android Market yet, and can only download it to your Google phone’s internal memory.

firefox android

Mozilla says on its official site that it’s hard at work on Firefox Mobile, bigging up its ability to use custom add-ons just like its older desktop bro. That’s great and sounds promising, but the competition is pulling away. Opera Mini’s surprise inclusion on the App Store has proved a hit, with over a million downloads in its first few doors on the virtual superstore. Safari is still not as great, but it’s kicking it on a phone that’s shifting at a terrifying rate and is undoubtedly getting a sleek new look at Apple’s WWDC 2010, due to kick off on June 7th in San Francisco.

However, if Mozilla wants to get in on the mobile act, it’s going to need to step on the gas stat. Extras like the awesome bar and its location-aware features are fantastic, but are no good just hanging out on Maemo and in pre-alpha form on Android. Maemo is being co-opted into Nokia and Intel’s MeeGo OS and despite being a cool system with the best will in the world, Maemo is nowhere near as big time as the iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian.

These are the platforms Firefox Mobile needs to hit if it’s going to keep up, let alone take a lead as the mobile browser of choice for geeks everywhere. Mozilla has to get a move on. The excitement of techies has been palpable for ages, but to hit paydirt it needs to roll out Firefox Mobile to the masses. Only then can everyone wax lyrical about it being the best way to surf the web when you’re out and about.

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