Firefox for Android: After the Reboot

I was asked to give a presentation on the recent developments in Firefox Mobile for the Mozilla Vision 2012 conference in Tokyo. It gave me a chance to reflect a bit on what we did, why we did it and how things are going. The “what” in this case is rewriting the UI for Firefox Mobile using native Android widgets. The “why” can be summed up in the following goals:

  • Faster start-up time
  • Support for Flash
  • Use less memory

We have been fairly “heads down” working on native Firefox for Android over the last 3 months. Re-writes are scary. It’s a race to re-implement existing functionality while adding all new bugs. We are finally to the point in the project where things are settling down. We are focused on stability issues, getting ready to release the native version to a larger audience. As for the primary goals, we have good news:

  • Start-up time is many times faster than the XUL version. Launching via the icon is almost instantaneous.
  • Flash is supported on Froyo and Gingerbread. We need to reverse engineer the changes made for Honeycomb and ICS. There is no documentation for this work.
  • With a single-process, we have reduced memory quite a bit. We still can get killed in the background by Android – it’s supposed to do this – but when this happens, we start up very quickly and restore your session.
  • We still support add-ons using the native UI!

I’m looking forward to being able to move forward again, designing/implementing new features on a solid foundation. We have plenty of new experiments and projects waiting to move forward.

Mozilla Vision 2012 was a great conference and very well attended. I’m very glad I had the chance to participate. Here is the link to my Google Docs presentation. It has a bit more details.

… and go grab a Nightly and see the changes for yourself!

22 Replies to “Firefox for Android: After the Reboot”

  1. Mark, how do you think this switch will impact people’s hope in having a real cross platform toolkit for html5 dev, I.e. Xul?

  2. I have installed Fennec earlier this day on my SGS2 with CM7. Well, I have two thoughts about it.

    First, it is definitely awesome. It is quite fast at most activites, and its UI is much more sensible than that of other Android browsers. And, according to the battery meter, Fennec isn’t very power-hungry, which is good too.

    Second, it has several grave bugs. For example, scrolling in landscape mode does not work at all. Sigh. Second, overflow:scroll is VERY slow, and the fonts inside do not get scaled accordingly to the rest of the page.

    I’m too lazy to fill in all of these bugs by myself, but I’d happily test future releases if the bugs will turn out to be SGS2-specific. You can provide my email in the bugzilla (or add me to cc:).

  3. Hello,

    I couldn’t find any way to email you so I will just message you here, First, you got a lovely blog. It’s on my bookmarks and I’m visiting it mostly daily.
    I was wondering if you know any replacement for Mozilla Prism? I am looking for a more updated software than Mozilla Prism ( it’s based on FireFox 5.0 which is very old )

    thank you very much!

  4. @Peter – Thanks for trying it out. We have been working hard of the last weeks to improve scrolling and panning nehavior and performance. Try out the latest Nightly and see if the problems were fixed.

  5. @Brian – Add-ons can be created in the same way as other versions of Firefox. The only real difference is XUL overlays can’t be used for UI changes. You can try to use them, but they have no affect. Instead, you must use a JS API to manipulate the Android native UI. The API is called NativeWindow (look for it in our code) and we should be adding docs for it soon.

  6. @antonio – We have been working very hard to create a platform for web applications: native style apps built using HTML5. I am hoping that we’ll be able to use this as a cross platform toolkit for apps. XUL will still be around, but platforms like Android make it hard to use XUL or even HTML as a dev platform without some wrangling.

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