Firefox Releases Beta Browser Fennec

The devices we use to access the internet are growing smaller and smaller, with more and more users turning to mobile devices to get their web fix on the fly. Nearly everyone in the browser market is scrambling to get their own mobile offering up to snuff, and Open Source heavyweight Mozilla is no exception.

Mozilla's mobile browser — known as Fennec — has been highly demanded but little-seen until recently, when beta versions for desktop testing and alpha versions for mobile devices have begun to trickle out of Firefox HQ. Late Wednesday night, Mozilla made another step forward, with the first beta release of Fennec 1.0, with what Mozilla developers say are astounding speed enhancements. Included in the list of new features are:

  • TraceMonkey: TraceMonkey is Mozilla's newest JavaScript compiler, the same one used in the upcoming Firefox 3.1/3.5 desktop browser. According to developers, TraceMonkey is so good at what it does, it can speed JavaScript up enough to compete with native code, and perhaps even eliminate the need for plugins like Adobe Flash.
  • Faster startup: A number of initialization-dragging issues have been identified and minimized, including a dramatic slowdown caused by the browser's bookmark system. Mozilla developer Mark Finkle discussed the bookmark bug in a recent blog post, explaining that the way the browser loaded the bookmark list caused a non-trivial number of system calls, resulting in three second load times for a mere ten bookmarks. Mozilla has been able to limit the number of calls required, resulting in a load-time improvement of nearly 40%.
  • Reduced overhead: One of the particularly problematic elements of the browser, from an overhead standpoint, has been the XPConnect bridge between JavaScript and the browser's C++ code. Developers are continuing work to reduce the number of XPConnect calls required, and are working with what they call "quickstubs," code that "short circuits" XPConnect, resulting in speed increases.
  • Interface & infrastructure: Underneath the shiny GUI, a great deal of work has been done to provide a positive user experience. Mozilla has worked on making it possible to pan scrollable lists in the browser's "chrome" (user interface), as well as integration aspects like making the Flash plugin render properly. Above the surface, the interface has gained larger default fonts to facilitate easy reading.

If all this has you ready to run out and get your very own copy of Fennec 1.0 Beta 1, you may need a tranquilizer, at least for a little while. Although betas are available for Linux, Mac, & Windows desktops, the beta of the actual mobile browser is only available for one device, the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet. Though Finkle reports that most of the improvements included in this beta release are directly applicable to the Windows Mobile version of the browser, given that the only Windows Mobile release we've seen so far — a "pre-alpha" released last month — proved useless to many, we suspect it may be a bit before we see another such release.

If you do happen to have an N810, you'll find the downloads you need in Mozilla's quick start guide. If you don't, never fear, you can still test to your heart's content with the desktop versions of Fennec, available from the same place. And of course, don't forget to read the release notes!

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