Every now and then I run into a “Hey there’s a new Fennec alpha release!” article somewhere (Fennec’s Mozilla’s code word for their Firefox for phones) and give it a try only and invariably to discover that, though they may have bumped in a few new nifty features like Firefox Sync and crunched the installation down a megabyte or two (the thing’s almost five times larger than Opera Mini, six times larger than Dolphin and Skyfire), it takes what feels like more than twice as long as Opera Mini, Opera Mobile, Skyfire, Dolphin HD and the stock browser to start up. Text of a page after the default double tap zoom level is barely readable even if you have 20/10 vision and it doesn’t even auto-fit at all, not on pinch zooming, tap zoom levels, landscape/portrait, nothing. It’s clunky and ugly.

dogdoorfailIf you’re going to write a negative article about some program, especially one made by the good people behind our beloved Firefox (I’ve loved it since it was called Phoenix which didn’t even require installation so I could run it on any computer at my college) you should at least take the most recent version that’s available where most users of a given platform get their applications along with the latest alpha version for a long spin while noting that they identify it as being beta. Actually first you should read the description which on the Android market includes:

Get the speed, security and customization you expect, now optimized for browsing on your phone. Synchronize your Firefox history, bookmarks, tabs and passwords between desktop and mobile. Get add-ons to customize Firefox exactly the way you like and type less by browsing with the Awesome Bar.

dogfoodfailSounds good, right? So this time I started by trying to get a Slashdot experience. Loaded the front page, had to do the pinch to zoom because the double-tap zoom didn’t zoom enough until I discovered that it doesn’t autofit, I tapped into an article, phone froze, rebooted, tried it again, realized again that I can’t read the page unless I slide my finger back and forth because there’s no damn autofit. How do you not have that function on a mobile browser and put it on an app market? Let’s see if it supports flash for phones that support flash – damnit it locked up on Slashdot before I could finish scrolling up. Maybe that means it does support Flash.

upskirtdogfailIt does however let you install add-ons, two of the eight of which claim to increase the text size and auto-fit text. Maybe by not including those functions in the program they’re trying to motivate you to check out the add-ons? Other hot plugins include one to use any image you want as the background image of your start page. That’s some revolutionary shit right there. Provided the page isn’t too heavy like Slashdot, in the very likely and frequent event that you need to save a webpage as a PDF on your phone, you might be able to do that with Firefox for mobile. It’s supposed to let you sync up to Firefox on your computer (bookmarks, passwords) if you install a Firefox extension, the one with a lot of bad reviews, and spend a half hour trying to fire out how to get it working as the instructions were too old for the current Firefox options interface. No AJAX-like Google autocomplete in the address bar like Dolphin and Chrome. But the sync thing, if they could make it less of a pain in the ass to set up, that would come in handy especially for passwords.

fetchfailSo it’s unusable, unless I just gave up too fast to assess this fairly, even after six years of its development. If I recall, recollections I’d prefer not to have anymore, it wasn’t so hot on WinMo either. But then again, what was. I don’t get it. The mobile market strikes me as a place you really want to lodge yourself into asafp, especially while it’s still emerging; yet, given that much smaller operations like whoever is behind Skyfire, Opera and Dolphin HD, Mozilla is half-assedly pussyfooting on their mobile front. These other phone browser guys, who did not have $91.3m in revenue last year, figured out how to get in the ring. They shouldn’t even call this a preview release yet, it’s a proof of concept.

dogcatfail1Mozilla, I’m a computer guy. I’ve got three servers plus my desktop on which, right now to offer you an example, I have five browser instances going on a four-headed setup, one of which is Chrome and the rest Firefox, with a total of ninety tabs, with, not counting individual Greasemonkey scripts, 65 extensions and add-ons. Yet on my phone, somehow the naked stock browser just does it for me with pretty much nothing left to be desired. Dolphin, for example, has everything the stock browser does plus more tab-like tabs, a respectable list of add-ons, gestures, themes, the works. I don’t want that stuff so I stick with the stock browser, but there are millions who have demonstrated that they would prefer more features. A whole lot of people have downloaded these different phone browsers and have been growing loyal to them. Maybe a few of them even made some kind of donation.

tirejumpfailWe’re missing out on you and you’re missing out on us. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel with all these extraordinary features you had in your original vision. I’m aware resources tend to be finite and hanging onto the desktop market’s a priority but please hit the throttle and stamp something usable focusing first just on one platform (I recommend Android) for those of us who just want to use your stuff on our phones out of love, respect and loyalty, plus an attraction to a couple features you’ve polished up to differentiate it from the rest, and then when you get around to it let the features trickle in once they’re good to go. And FFS update the desktop-side Firefox Sync extension page, and while you’re at it the extension too. Another protip, pick a damn name, one name, and stick with it. Right now for this thing you’ve got Fennec (which I think is worse than Minimo), Firefox for mobile (half lowercase?) and Mozilla Firefox Web Browser. Pick one or come up with something better – I suggest “Firefox.”

C’mon guys, I’m rooting for you. Get me to the point where I am not just sitting around on a Sunday, wondering what to write, then it pops into my head, “Hmm, been a while, let’s see if Fennec still sucks – yup, still sucks, there’s my article.” Instead make me think and write that way about, you know, the usual suspect: Microsoft.

Doug Simmons

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Doug, thanks for the review. You might like to know that both of the text zoom add-ons you mentioned are written by members of the mobile Firefox team, to test code that will in fact be included in an upcoming Firefox release.

    We’re working on startup speed too, though that may take a while before it’s as awesome as we’d like.

    Sync setup is much simpler in the latest Firefox 4 betas – no add-on required!

    We know these are areas that still need work.The good news is, we’re working on them.

  2. Matt, wish you got a little more defensive instead of thanking me for that, I feel like a dick now for ripping on you guys. The dog fail pictures were of course in jest.

    But I just want the Android-owners of your base, and those outside of your desktop market too if you manage to make a generally superior browser to Android’s stock browser, to keep a little Mozilla with them as the world makes an accelerating transition to phones for Internet use. Also, by the way, it would really make my day to hear that you’re at least thinking about doing the same thing with Thunderbird. Please think about that. Look at the k-9 popularity – the Android stock and Gmail clients just don’t do the trick for everyone.

    I imagine you’ve put a little more thought into things like strategy and bigger-picture decision making than some random blogger on a small site but for what it’s worth it just feels like you’re aiming too high with your approach on Fennec to make it as Firefox-like as possible at the expense of taking too much time to penetrate this market with an application that is so rough around the edges that only the most diehard of your fans and your developers are using regularly.

    We know these are areas that still need work. The good news is, we’re working on them.

    That is good news. I’ll keep waiting and trying the new releases. Thanks for dropping by..

  3. All right buddy, installing right now. Will set it as my default and give it a good long run tomorrow and post if I see a difference.

    Hot damn, you weren’t kidding about the startup speed. Nice.

    Next time try to catch me when my Adderall’s still pumping, not wine.

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