There’s no doubt that it’s getting easier to access the Web on a mobile device. Thanks to the iPhone and Apple’s Web browser, Safari, millions of people feel as though they finally have the Internet in their pocket. But there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to allow for the kind of innovation on the mobile Web that is possible on the traditional Web, says Mitchell Baker, chairman of Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser.
Baker has been instrumental in building the open-source software community that gave the world Firefox, a popular alternative to desktop browsers such as Internet Explorer and Safari. But now Mozilla has turned its attention to the mobile Web. Last October, the foundation announced an initiative to build the first, fully open Web browser for mobile devices. As an open-source software project, the browser will be built using code from software programmers from all over the world. The hope is to spur innovation in an industry that’s famous for locking out software developers.
Technology Review’s information technology editor, Kate Greene, caught up with Baker at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco last week to ask about her vision of the mobile Web.
Technology Review: What progress have you made since you announced a mobile Firefox initiative last fall?
Mitchell Baker: The first thing that we have done is make sure that the size and memory requirement of our code are more suitable for cell phones and related devices. We hadn’t actually focused on that in the past years. We focused on building the user experience, and the [software developer] ecosystem, and making a browser that’s flexible. So the performance characteristics of the code that runs Firefox are dramatically different than they were six months ago. They are equal to any mobile browser, and better than some, depending on the tests. We’ve done a lot of the hard basic engineering work that needs to get done.
We’ve also started the prototype development. There’s a project called Fennec, which is another type of fox. We’ve released prototypes of this, not products. This is the classic Mozilla way of development: release early and release often.
TR: When do you expect a mobile Firefox to be available to the general public?
MB: We can expect to see things that the general public can play with sometime this year. I’m not sure it’ll be a completely polished product, but it’ll be within a range that’s usable.