First Look: The New Mobile Firefox Browser

Mozilla Wednesday put out its first beta release of Fennec, the mobile version of its Firefox browser. I took a quick look at Firefox's little sibling, and I have to say Fennec is a very impressive and easy to use browser that maximizes your small screen space.

Fennec uses touch screen features like zooming, panning and scrolling. It also embraces a lot of features you'd expect in a mobile Firefox, including the ability to download add-ons, the awesome bar, easy bookmark management, and even about:config access for power customization. Mozilla has even put TraceMonkey in Fennec, the same JavaScript engine found in Firefox 3.1, to speed up your browsing experience. Here are some more of highlights you can expect with Fennec.

Add-ons: If you are into customizing Firefox with add-ons, you'll love this feature in Fennec. Right now, the only add-ons available include Twitter, a URL fixer to combat typos, and a few security programs. I downloaded the Twitter add-on for Fennec and found that getting add-ons worked just like in Firefox: the add-on dialog box appears and I choose to install it. After that, Fennec automatically restarted. Once Twitter was activated, I just entered my tweet in the address bar and clicked on a little green button to post. This is a great solution and allows you to easily post a URL that you're viewing. The Twitter add-on automatically shrinks the address using tinyURL.

Menus: Fennec's menus are easily accessible by moving the Web page you are viewing to the left. This uncovers a side bar with buttons for back, forward, favorites, and advanced preferences. In the preferences section you can manage add-ons, extensions, themes, and plugins. You can also manage your privacy and security settings including JavaScript, passwords, cookies, and so on.

Awesome bar: Taking one of the most popular features from Firefox, Fennec's awesome bar remembers where you've been and allows you easy access to these sites. As an added feature, you can also search with Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia right from the awesome bar.

Bookmarks management: The bookmarks icon is right next to the address bar and lets you save and manage your favorite sites. To go to a bookmark, you just click on the icon and then select your site.

Maximizing Screen Space: Fennec is all about maximizing your screen space. Once you start to scroll down a Web page, the address bar disappears so you can see more of the page you're viewing.

Tabs: Getting to tabs is so easy it's ridiculous. Just flick the Web page to the right and you can easily add or close tabs from another sidebar. This is a fantastic feature, and will make mobile browsing far more productive.

Flash and other video codec support: Fennec boasts the ability to play anything from Flash to Quicktime to Silverlight. However, in my tests Fennec didn't fare well for playing video. I accessed YouTube, the New York Times, and CNN to test video and none of them worked effectively. On YouTube I could get audio but no video (I couldn't even see the actual plugin), at CNN I couldn't even get the video to play, and at The New York Times the video was incredibly jumpy and was more like watching a slideshow. I hope these problems will be fixed before an official version of Fennec comes out.

Despite its video shortcomings, Fennec looks like a Fantastic browser for the mobile Web. According to the roadmap, the first devices to get Fennec will include Nokia's Maemo platform and Windows Mobile 6, followed by Symbian devices (work on Symbian begins in December 2009). Currently, there's no news to report for Palm, Blackberry, or iPhone users.

If you're dying for a sneak peak at Fennec you can download the real thing for the Nokia N810 tablet or emulators for Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. You can also see Mozilla's video below for a quick walkthrough of Fennec. Fennec Beta 1 walkthrough from Madhava Enros on Vimeo.

This story, "First Look: The New Mobile Firefox Browser" was originally published by PCWorld.

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