Amid hints of Firefox Mobile alphas, 'Fennec' moves forward

So how close is a real, supported version of Firefox for mobile devices? Prototypes have been under way for months, but last weekend, Mozilla's CEO indicated a real Firefox-branded alpha could be made available "in a few weeks."

In an interview with San Jose Mercury News reporter Pete Carey published over the weekend, Mozilla CEO John Lilly made a statement that Carey didn't appear to follow up on: The first official test versions of Firefox Mobile should come this month.

"We want to make sure that the Web on mobile is more like the Web than what the mobile industry offers today, which is closed, separate networks and not a very good information-getting experience for the user," Lilly told Carey. "The first thing is to bring Firefox to mobile devices. We're working on that, and we'll see some alphas in a few weeks."

Mozilla has yet to follow up on Lilly's comments with news reflecting the organization. However, there's evidence to back up what he said: Last week, the open source project for building a mobile browser prototype using Mozilla technology, code-named "Fennec," met its "Milestone 8" (M8) stage. What that means is, a working prototype without the "Firefox" name -- about as "pre-alpha" as you can get -- is operable on Nokia N8x0 mobile phones including the N810.

An early screenshot of Fennec, a prototype Mozilla browser for the Nokia N810.  [Courtesy Mozilla]

An early screenshot of Fennec, a prototype Mozilla browser for the Nokia N810. [Courtesy Mozilla]

What can it do? Well for now, it can show you some Web pages -- and in Firefox fashion, it can embed open pages in tabs. The latest M8 build doesn't look very much like the concept video from Mozilla Labs' Aza Raskin, which explores some untried methods for representing functionality on-screen. But there is a "UI" panel that can float onto the screen, which is not unlike Raskin's concept videos, though it does have to share the space with Nokia's own control screens.

In fact, its developers say Fennec M8 may not represent what its developers want to work with long-term...and hint that it may represent what they don't want to work with. But it does respond better than previous builds to such things as kinetic scrolling and other tactile gestures.

Independently, developers have been working on porting Fennec to other platforms -- including last month, for instance, the e-Paper prototype device.

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