Fennec, the mobile version of the Firefox web browser, is now available in an early build designed for Android handsets thanks to a fan-compiled download posted on an Android developers forum. And by early, we mean unofficial, pre-alpha, device-specific and downright buggy. But for anyone interested in mobile browser developments, this port is an interesting sneak peek into the future of Firefox's mobile plans.
Fennec for Droid
German developer Martin Schirr's version of Fennec is ideal for Droid users because it requires a hardware-based keyboard. Without support for touch input or multi-touch, it won't work on all flavors of the Google Android mobile operating system.
It's also a hefty download - 41 MB in size. And it freezes upon first boot. Plus, it's slow and prone to crashes and bugs. But that's what pre-alpha means - especially a pre-alpha that wasn't released by the Mozilla organization itself.
So what can you do with the Android version of Fennec? Well, you can test out its features, like tabbed browsing, tab synchronization between desktop and mobile and browser add-ons. Right now, there aren't too many add-ons available, but given the stage of development, that's not surprising.
Fennec: Slow to Launch?
We first heard of Mozilla's plans to bring Fennec to Android back in June of last year when Google announced a change in how software can run on Android. After the release of a new Android NDK that used C/C++ programming languages - the same as Firefox - Mozilla began to consider the possibilities of bringing the Fennec browser to the Google-branded mobile platform.
Now it's nearly 9 months later and there's still not a usable version of the browser for Android devices - just pre-alpha builds like this. Should we be concerned? Should Mozilla?
While waiting for a real version of Fennec, the popularity of Webkit-based browsers continues to grow, Opera gains mobile ground (especially on feature phones), and last month, Microsoft announced a new mobile OS launching by year-end, Windows Phone 7 Series. This OS will include an updated version of Internet Explorer Mobile that offers multi-touch gesture support and tabbed browsing, among other features.
Mozilla is expected to release a working build of Fennec around the same time, but depending on the exact launch dates, they may not get to claim "first" anymore - at least among the top web browsers out there. (Third-party apps already deliver tabbed browsing on various mobile devices). That being said, support for Mozilla is still strong. And once functional, it may have a lot more to offer than its competitors.
In the meantime, intrepid Android geeks will be definitely be interested in giving this new fan-compiled Fennec build a look. However, general Android users should probably stay away for now - this version is by no means meant for daily use.