Home What Went Wrong with Fennec, a.k.a. Firefox Mobile?

What Went Wrong with Fennec, a.k.a. Firefox Mobile?

Only last week, the Mozilla Project proudly announced a “milestone release” of Fennec, the web browser also known as “Firefox Mobile.” The much anticipated software was made available for download in a pre-alpha version for the HTC Touch Pro, a Windows Mobile smartphone. Shortly after its debut, mobile web enthusiasts everywhere began testing the new browser. But then something strange occurred. Instead of surfing the web, testers were stuck staring at a black-and-white checkerboard screen. It appeared that Fennec, right out of the gate, was completely broken.

Failure to Launch: Literally

In PCMag tests, the Fennec browser was installed on two devices. On each one, the browser had to be launched twice in order for it to run. But upon start up, only the checkerboard pattern displayed, not the expected introductory screen with instructions. By scrolling up and left, you could reach the address bar, but entering in URLs only returned errors. By kick-starting the phone’s modem by first launching Opera, it was possible to get the title bar of various web pages to appear – but still no page would display. Other Fennec testers experienced the same issues.

Wrote PCMag.com’s columnist Sascha Segan, “If this is a milestone, it’s marking a pit stop. Better luck next time, Mozilla folks.”

What Happened?

According to Mozilla Mobile team member, Mark Finkle, the problem appears to be memory-related. He notes that Windows Mobile devices have some restrictions around memory use and that’s what his team is now trying to work around. However, it sounds like the team still hasn’t yet nailed down the exact problem which is causing the bug. On his blog, he writes “when we figure out the true cause…we’ll be sure to blog the details.” (When?)

Checking in on the bug’s status, it’s still listed as “Assigned to: Nobody.” But we’re taking that to mean (we hope) that the entire Fennec team is working on addressing this showstopper of an issue.

Says one commenter on Bugzilla, the problem happens immediately following an allocation failure in gfxImageSurface, but no one else has chimed in to confirm his statement yet.

The Mobile Web: the Next Browser Battleground

Interestingly enough, while Mozilla’s attempt at the mobile web was crashing and burning, another mobile browser, Skyfire, was releasing a landmark version of their browser, too. Skyfire version 0.9 for Windows Mobile and Symbian, a browser which already supports Flash 10, Silverlight, and Ajax, introduced a new “social” version of their software on February 12th.

In the latest update, Skyfire offers a Friendfeed-like start portal which delivers news from RSS sources as well as updates from Facebook and Twitter. It’s pre-configured with feeds from Digg, ESPN, Google News, Hulu, YouTube and Yahoo! News, but those can be easily customized.

In addition to relative newcomer Skyfire, some of the most popular browsers for the mobile web comes from Opera, whose mobile software is currently installed on millions of devices worldwide. 

Although Skyfire and Opera may not have the brand-name recognition that Mozilla enjoys (well, perhaps Opera does), it’s clear that when it comes to mobile web browsers, innovation can happen anywhere, from any company. What dominates on the desktop will not necessarily be what dominates on our mobiles, and for mobile web users, that could be a good thing.

Image credit: PCMag

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