Mozilla announced the availability of a mobile Firefox browser for Nokia smartphones built off the Maemo platform. Reading this news I began to wonder if Firefox has as bright a future on smartphones as it does on PCs, laptops and Netbooks. I’m a happy Firefox user on my PC and sometimes on my Mac, but browser market dynamics don’t seem to be as advanced on mobile devices as they are on traditional PCs today. Users tend to use the native smartphone browser an order of magnitude more than they use the native browser on a PC, laptop or Netbook. If this trend continues, the leading mobile browser will be the browser shipped natively on the leading smartphone, with little room for a third party browser to assert itself as a challenger or leader.

Let’s take a quick look at the native browsers on the leading smartphone platforms. Symbian, the number 1 smartphone operating system by market share builds its own browser. The Blackberry, iPhone, Android and Palm WebOS, the number 2, 3, 5 and 6 smartphone operating systems by market share respectively, all deliver native mobile browsers based on Webkit. Well, Blackberry doesn’t yet, but RIM acquired a company that will help get RIM on the Webkit bandwagon in 2010. Webkit is the competing browser rendering engine to Mozilla’s Gecko engine at the heart of Firefox. The number 4 smartphone operating system, Windows Mobile, not surprisingly ships a mobile IE browser.

Firefox is being shipped as the native browser on two of Nokia’s high end N-series smartphones built off the Maemo platform. But the rest of Nokia’s smartphones are built off the Symbian platform. Additionally, Nokia’s success in the smartphone market is not a fait accompli as the iPhone, Blackberry and Android are viewed to be growing at Nokia & Symbian’s expense.

Mobile Firefox clearly faces an uphill battle for inclusion as the native browser on leading smartphones. However, I wouldn’t write Firefox off in the smartphone arena just yet. As smartphones become more critical to the daily lives of mainstream users, synchronizing between computing devices will become complex and critical. Synchronizing the browsing experience between a traditional PC at work or at home with your smartphone’s browser could become the ‘killer app’ that pulls mobile Firefox onto smartphones. The Weave Sync feature in Firefox addresses just this scenario:

“Sync your Firefox tabs, history, bookmarks and passwords between your desktop and mobile device for a seamless browsing experience”

As I write this I have 28 tabs open in Firefox. Some of the tabs are only open until I find the time to read them. Other tabs contain information that I’ll need to act on when I’m out shopping or out with friends. Today, if I want the information available on my Blackberry I have to email myself the URL or copy and paste information from a webpage into an email to myself. I’d love for my PC browser tabs to be synchronized and available on my Blackberry when I’m out and about. I want this feature so much that I’ll even go as far as adding a third party browser to my Blackberry, something I haven’t bothered to do since becoming a Blackberry user 2 year ago.

It seems unthinkable that Firefox’s growth and popularity on traditional PCs would not somehow translate into a competitive differentiator on smartphones. While Firefox lacks the smartphone distribution channel that Webkit enjoys, Firefox can differentiate in offering a seamless browsing experience across PC and mobile devices.

What do you think about mobile Firefox’s prospects?

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

I’m an equal opportunity critic of bad decisions, regardless of whether they’re coming from an open source or closed source purveyor.

A few weeks back I wrote that the IE8 “Get the Facts” campaign gets it wrong by showing little respect for the target audience’s intelligence.  Today, I’m calling out Mozilla for needlessly playing the “Get the facts” game (or “See How we Stack Up” in Mozilla speak).

Someone at Mozilla wants me to believe that Firefox is so much better than IE that Firefox leads 6 to 1 in the “handy browser comparison chart”.  I don’t disagree that Firefox leads in the items that Mozilla included in the comparison.  But if Firefox didn’t lead in “Thousands of free way to personalize your online experience”, Mozilla would not have put that item on the comparison table.

Does this comparison really help someone evaluating which browser to download and use?  Absolutely not. Product comparisons are better left to a third party that will include criteria important to users, not simply criteria that the owning vendor’s product is best at.

This is a waste of time, both for employees of Mozilla and Microsoft and for anyone who has stumbles across these “comparisons”.

I don’t know why, but I would have expected Mozilla to take the high road in this comparison game.

Reading the Windows Internet Explorer 8: Get the Facts marketing campaign instantly made me wonder “When did Microsoft hire Oracle’s marketing team?” While Oracle is getting much better, they were legendary for making bold claims by cherry picking “data”.  It used to drive me nuts when I was in the IBM market intelligence group and was asked to pull background data to refute these claims.  Not because the work was hard.  But because I felt that the work was unnecessary.  After a while, readers and customers learned to discount the bold claims.

In any case, back to the current story at hand.  I’m probably more pro-Microsoft than most open source folks, which is why the IE 8 Get the Facts marketing stings more than it probably should.  I have nothing against IE 8, and it may very well be an excellent browser.  For what it’s worth, I use both Firefox, the “View in IE” Firefox extension and IE 7 daily.

When I read a comparison table and one product has a check on every item and the other two competitors have, at most, 4 checks, I am instantly weary of the comparison.  Markets are way more competitive than the story Microsoft is painting with this comparison table.

I’m really wonder who Microsoft is targeting with this campaign.  For most Windows corporate and consumer users, IE is on their desktop and they’ll continue to use it.  This campaign doesn’t mean much to them, and can’t really be targeted at them. If these users are using Firefox, it’s because someone they know or someone in the IT department has convinced them to use Firefox.  To get my little cousin to stop using Firefox, Microsoft has to get me to stop using Firefox and wait for me to tell her that IE 8 is much better than Firefox.  But this comparison table treats me like a moron.  Especially when you consider that I’m using Firefox and have pre-existing views on many items on the comparison table.  Only IE 8 gets a check for “Security” “Privacy” and “Ease of Use”?  Really? At a minimum, Microsoft should have used Harvey Balls to show that the competitors have capabilities, which may not be as strong as IE 8.  Microsoft could have posted videos that show how easy it is to carry out a common task in IE 8 and compare it to Firefox with the relevant add on installed.  Show us what happens when a session crashes and how much better the combination of “tab isolation and crash recovery” is in day to day use versus Firefox.  In this case, simply having two features versus one or the other, doesn’t tell me anything about my day to day experience.

If Microsoft wants me and others like me, to take IE 8 seriously, I expect them to treat our intelligence with some respect.  Anything less, and after a while, we’ll have been taught to discount their bold claims.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

Like many of you I eagerly waited to try Google Chrome yesterday.  But to be very honest, I wanted to find flaws with it.  

I felt somewhat guilty about using a browser other than Firefox. When I first started using FF 0.8 in 2004, the underlying technology and architecture of Firefox was so different than what was around.  Firefox raised the bar and I wanted to support the team for doing so.  Over the years I’ve come to rely on various add-ons such as FireGestures, CookieSafe, FireFTP, Firebug, GmailManager, and Web Developer.

With that in mind, you’ll understand why I originally gave up on Google Chrome after using it for ~2 hours yesterday.  But, as I started to write this post, I remembered that I was an Opera fan before I became a Firefox user.  The initial transition was tough; largely because FF didn’t support mouse gestures initially.  But, the notion of a lightweight, modular browser that I could tailor to my own needs was reason enough to make the switch to Firefox.

As much as it pains me to say, I’m going to make the switch to Google Chrome as my primary browser.  I’ll deal with the lack of mouse gesture support and the lack of functionality equivalent to CookieSafe, etc.  But I’ll also enjoy some new benefits like not having to shut down FF because one of the sites (of the 20+ tabs) that I have up is blowing up. I have to remind myself that Chrome is a 1.0 release (well, beta, but so is GMail right?).  Supporting (third-party) add-ons is a natural next step for Chrome.

At the end of the day, I’m making the decision to switch to Google Chrome for the same reason that I originally switched to FF.  The underlying technology and architecture of Chrome is so different than its competition.  Chrome has raised the bar and I want to support the team for doing so.

I suspect others have made or will make the same choice for similar reasons.  It pains me to say this, but Chrome isn’t going to steal from IE share as much as it will cannibalize Firefox share.  The only people who will try Chrome are the same people who initially tried Firefox.  

It is possible that Firefox will adopt some of the technology that underlies Chrome, such as the V8 JavaScript engine.  Or maybe the folks at Firefox will use Chrome as impetus to take their game to the next level?  Mozilla is claiming that their new JavaScript engine is faster than V8.  Interesting….

Who knows, maybe I’ll switch back to FF.  But for now, Google Chrome just leapfrogged everything else on the market (from a geeky underlying technology standpoint). BTW, how cool is it that the Google Chrome Task Manager has a “Stats for nerds” link???

Far from resting on the success of FF 3.0, the team is looking well into the future and asking what you’d like to see from your next generation browser.  From the folks at Mozilla:

“Today we’re calling on industry, higher education and people from around the world to get involved and share their ideas and expertise as we collectively explore and design future directions for the Web.

You don’t have to be a software engineer to get involved, and you don’t have to program. Everyone is welcome to participate. We’re particularly interested in engaging with designers who have not typically been involved with open source projects.”

Very cool to see Mozilla expanding the aperture of open source participation.  Even cooler that the concepts being displayed are truly innovative.  This isn’t about re-implementing a pre-existing feature in a competing browser.  It’s about innovation that, when you see the feature in action, it’s truly intuitive and you want to get the feature now! ;-)

Head on over to the Mozilla Labs blog and watch the videos.  The Aurora Concept totally rocks.  Actually, all three concepts are very cool.

Well done Mozilla et al!