Android Fennec

It's been a couple weeks since Mozilla unleashed their Fennec alpha builds upon us, and some welcome changes are making their way into the product.  For anyone living under a rock, Fennec is Mozilla's code name for the version of Firefox for mobile devices, and something a whole lot of us are looking forward to.  Some of the changes are big, some not so much, and some are just magical.

The biggest changes come to the Awesomebar, which has been rebranded as the Awesomescreen (probably to hold more awesome) and the layout has been changed, merging things like bookmarks and search into a single UI.  This gives more room for things like badging the Awesomescreen URL's with web metadata, so you get a useful visual like this:

Gmail badge with unread count

awesome

Other changes like improved right-to-left locale support (think Hebrew) and support for Android's native notifications are also quite nice.  If you're curious, and especially if the first pre-alpha build didn't work so well for you, head over to the download page (on your Android device) and give the latest nightly build a shot.  [Mark Finkle's Weblog]

 
There are 35 comments

why would you guys even post this.. this browser sucks!!! you just made me waste 5 minutes of my life lol

dallen13 says:

uh, it's not even beta yet! of course it'g going to suck at this point! he said in the article, it's "something a whole lot of us are looking forward to". i'm excited to know progress is being made.

icebike says:

Why are you excited?
Why are you looking forward to this?

Do you seriously expect it to be better than the mobile chromium browser built into Android?

I fail to see the attraction.

duffyanneal says:

Fennec works fairly well on the DX. Still buggy, but better than the last release. I actually prefer the way Fennec formats text and pictures when zoomed...similar to an iPhone. Chromium is good, but it needs some work.

Matt Brubeck says:

First, I'd like to say that the stock Android browser (and third-party browsers that use Android's built-in WebKit engine) work great, and set a very high standard for performance that Fennec is still trying to meet. It's a very polished, fast, reliable browser.

But some of the advantages of Fennec over the stock browser include:

  1. Two-ways sync of tabs, bookmarks, history, passwords, and form data with Firefox on your computer - enter URLs and fill out forms with much less typing!
  2. Quicker, more convenient switching between multiple tabs.
  3. Add-ons that let you customize any part of the browser UI.

Some people won't care too much about these features, and they will probably be just as happy with the stock browser. But I hope many people will find that these Fennec features (and others) really improve mobile browsing.

joek1971 says:

It is not working on the HTC EVO, when first installed told me to download newer version and uninstall the old one, I did now it wont work, it says loading then gets me to the browser screen and then just closes. Do they test this software or just throw it out and see what happens.

Matt Brubeck says:

Sorry, our nightly builds are often pretty unstable, since they are work-in-progress development snapshots.

We fixed a bunch of crashing bugs just yesterday, so today's nightly builds at https://wiki.mozilla.org/Mobile/Platforms/Android should be much more stable.

Stromson says:

Fennec was irrelevant before it was even announced. I know Mozilla is open source and does everything for free (not counting donations/sponsorships) and all, but their development cycle is slower than a sap drip in winter.

Smokexz says:

Lol I will waste my time when the beta hits us.

Actually working nicely on the N1 running stock 2.2. Using it to post this comment

Stromson says:

But how does it compare to Dolphin?

Dave0373 says:

Dolphin is way better at this point. Fennic is getting better but not close yet. Fennic has the side bars like dolphin.

hansonator says:

This POS was using 115MB of RAM! Kept force closing. Uninstalled.

This is why I ditched FF on my PC, got too bloated and ran like shit. I was a faithful user for 4 or 5 years and the last six months of that were brutal.

I didn't think they could do a mobile browser any better but had to see for myself.

No Thanks!

Qazme says:

Someone this passionate about beta software makes me want to cry for joy!

jleny says:

Very slow and buggy but has very good potential. I like the layout and the one touch links.
I'm sure the beta version will be a big leap forward.

Shiggitay says:

Despite what everyone here is saying I'd still like to try it out on my Epic 4G. How do I install it though? WTF can read a ".install" file?

Matt Brubeck says:

The .install file is the version for Nokia Maemo phones. The download page is probably detecting your browser incorrectly. (Did you change the useragent?)

See https://wiki.mozilla.org/Mobile/Platforms/Android for direct links to the latest nightly builds on Android, or use http://bit.ly/c8kcmf for a direct link to the alpha 1 APK.

Shiggitay says:

Thank you! Installing now heh.

BigTex says:

Folks. This in an alpha build. It will suck. It will crash. It will be buggy. Why on earth would you expect it to work like a finished product???

mattchew86 says:

@Matt thanks for the link. I tried the link here on my INC and it wouldn't work.

tim6253 says:

I don't care if this is Alpha. There is no excuse or reason for any browser to be 29MB, 35+ while browsing and using over 100MB of RAM. They didn't even add an exit option. This is such a POS. It was painfully slow on my EVO. It would probably kill anything less. Save yourself some time and don't bother with it. If the alpha is this bloated...I hate to even think about the beta, and beyond. Uses over 100 MB of RAM!!! Are you effin kidding me??????

Sanyo M1 says:

You are beyond retarded. Mozilla didn't promise you that it would work without problems, why are you bitching so much, about ALPHA software no less?

tim6253 says:

Ummm at 35MB, it's the largest app I've ever seen. Using over 100MB of RAM for one single app is rediculus. I'm not bitching about small performance issues or bugs...This app totally eats up all available ram, forcing everything else to close, then force-closes itself. It is by far the biggest resource hog I've ever seen. This isn't about alpha, it's about an app that is way too damn big, especially for a browser. It is 35MB. In comparison, Dolphin is 3, Stock browser is 2. So, if you don't understand the bitching...you are retarded.

Matt Brubeck says:

Hi, I work for the Mozilla mobile team.

We know that the size is an issue, and we are working on a plan to reduce it. There's an explanation on our web site. Briefly, the installed size is about double what it could be, because Android NDK apps must extract their libraries from the APK, while also keeping the APK archive around. We have a workaround in progress for this that should reduce the installed size to around 20MB or so on devices with small internal storage partitions.

Fennec will still be larger than browsers like Dolphin HD becuase it provides its own alternative rendering engine, JavaScript VM, etc. Dolphin HD (and the stock browser) both use the WebKit libraries that are part of the Android framework. Their sizes in the Application Manager do not include the size of these framework libraries.

We're still working on optimizing Fennec's speed and resource use - the alpha build was largely unoptimized on Android. You'll be happy to know that the latest Fennec nightly build with several tabs open and some complex web pages rendered uses only 57 MB of RAM (total Pss measured by dumpsys) on my Nexus One with Android 2.2.

Sanyo M1 says:

Now that you know the reason for its size, please shut up and don't use this software. It would do all us a favor of not having to listen to you bitch and moan, without thinking.

Sanyo M1 says:

Now that you know the reason for its size, please shut up and don't use this software. It would do all us a favor of not having to listen to you bitch and moan, without thinking.

tim6253 says:

Dude, no matter the reason for its size.
.it is the biggest piece of resource-hogging bloatware available on Android. If you want to bog down your phone, have at it. But don't be mad at us for calling it what it is. Now take your meds and stfu already.

Shiggitay says:

Dude, this software was released to the public so they can play with it. It is an alpha. As the others here have said, it IS going to perform imperfectly. If you can afford to complain then offer to help improve it. Until then, I'd suggest you keep your mouth shut about it. Not trying to be rude, just realistic.

It doesn't 'bog down' my Evo. I say user error ;)

Shiggitay says:

haha. :)

Shiggitay says:

As for how this alpha performs, I loaded it on my Epic 4G and it runs really slow, and most sites cause it to crash out. This is by no means a complaint. Just a report as to how it runs on a certain device, in my case it'd be my Epic 4G.

I'm sure these are in the pipeline, but for the beta I'd love to see:

• Automatic text wrap when zooming in on text, say at www.nyt.com or anywhere there's article text

• Less laggy performance

These aren't demands, just feedback/suggestions as this app progresses. I'll gladly help rest it out as newly optimized features etc are added. :)

Matt Brubeck says:

Thanks for the feedback!

The first beta release will feature much smoother, more responsive zooming and scrolling, and faster startup time. The pre-beta nightly builds include some of the speed improvements already - you can try them out from https://wiki.mozilla.org/Mobile/Platforms/Android but you will need to uninstall the alpha version first. (Note that the nightly builds also have several new bugs that we're working on fixing.)

We are also working on making text readable after zooming, but this won't be ready in time for beta 1. See https://wiki.mozilla.org/Mobile/Projects/Reflow_on_zoom for some of the work we're planning.

Shiggitay says:

Sure! No problem! I can't say I'll test EVERY SINGLE alpha, but every so often I'll get one and play with it. :)

tim6253 says:

I wasn't complaining about performance. I was pointing out the sheer size of this monster. Resource hog. Even when it is better optimized, it will still be a 20 MB app, using around 60+MB of RAM. I just don't see the point. There are great browsers already that work great, are small in size, and aren't heavy on RAM. (Stock, Dolphin HD, Xscope, and Skyfire) Fennec is just not going to be up to par with those, the devs have already pointed this out.

Matt Brubeck says:

I said that Fennec is "not yet" up to par with WebKit's performance on Android. We absolutely plan to get there, but it will take time. And the stock browser is only "small in size" if you don't count its rendering engine and other components that are built into the Android core.

Part of the point of Fennec is to take advantage of Android apps' ability to provide alternatives to system libraries and frameworks. Using our own rendering engine will let us different things than WebKit browsers - things like SVG, WebM video, the new Audio Data API, and powerful extensions.

Many current Android phones do not have the storage space to install apps like Fennec that provide new libraries and instead of just reusing the system's existing capabilities. Those users might choose not to install Fennec because they need the storage space for other things. But on newer phones with 1GB to 16GB of internal storage, a dozen megabytes for a highly-capable browser is surely not a big deal. (If our custom dlopen() work is successful, the minimum storage requirement for Fennec will be as low as 12MB.)