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Firefox/Fennec Suddenly Useable; Beginning to Kick Some Ass

imageSo last month I was experiencing an urge to write but it was super slow news Sunday, so I did a rant breaking the Mozilla developers’ balls about what I felt was a mediocre mobile browser whose development was going in slow motion, eating the dust of smaller operations. I forgot that we get so much traffic that it was a guarantee that one of them would read it so I was a bit of a dick. But one of them did, Matt Brubeck, essentially saying Hey man we’re aware it’s not yet a head turner but give us like one month and I’ll come at you with a kick ass build to write home about.

Brubeck followed through, he and his team really delivered. Fennec (top secret code word for Firefox’s Android version), nightly build 4.0b4pre7 (go here for sideloadable nightlies), is fairly ready for primetime, it lacks every deficiency I recall bitching about and the new complaints I’ve come up with are both small and include items that others may regard as being the right way to do it.

She loads fast after the first post-installation run, felt like maybe 3.5 seconds on my Nexus One without overclocking. It loads and renders fast enough that its performance will likely not be an issue to you. They fixed the zooming and text autofitting thank God. They’ve got a respectable list of add-ons now, so let’s talk about that for a bit because a few of them are important to me enough to replace the stock browser shortcut on my home screen with this.

imageFor example, FireFound is one of those remote locator security things that beam your phone’s location (also your laptop’s), either estimated by IP or by towers or GPS or wifi or all of those, which you can retrieve to go find your phone and kick someone’s ass. You can get an add-on that magically creates you a temporary junk email account just like that without your having to register anywhere. It’s got a nifty password manager whereby in addition to saving passwords when you bang one in on a site it hasn’t been to yet it offers to let you tap out a pattern so that the next time you go to that site you just type the pattern matching the one you made when you set the password for that site. I’ll never use it, but that’s worth mentioning anyway. Universal sharing button, twit through the address bar and a few others.

The most special add-on to me is Reading List. Why? Because I ride the subway and lose my signal but am in a position where I want to pass the time by flipping through /b/ on my phone. Chandroid’s great for /s/ but I’d rather have the pages in their normal format on /b/. Just the way I am. Used to be able to do that on the stock browser, open up a bunch of pages and then flip through the tabs when I’m underground, but I can’t anymore. This thing lets you save any page and you can bring up a list of what you saved, nice and simple, works just right. I’m not sure why you’d need to but you can also save pages as PDFs. But this offline plugin, that hits the spot.

imageThis isn’t unique to this build but you can sync it up to your computer’s Firefox to get your bookmarks, passwords, some preferences, your history and maybe your tabs like Chrome to phone, though I haven’t figured out how to do that yet (tabs that is – got the rest working). I’d like it a whole lot more if instead of making me bang in long codes and making an account if it would somehow link my two browsers up to each other like you can do with Chrome by using my Google account for authentication. But that’s a good thing to have, nice not to have to bang in all my passwords all over again. I hate having to do that.

Here’s what I don’t like: No AJAX autocomplete Google searching in the address bar as you type, it just pulls up options to search what you type through various engines and URLs you’ve been to matching the text you’ve already typed. On the other hand, regular Firefox is like that, separating the URL entry from googling, so maybe the Firefox purists out there would prefer that. Not quite everyone (I’m looking at you Microsoft) wants to clone Chrome. The speed and momentum of your scrolling, way too slow and low. But that’s not the end of the world as you can bang in about:config and pull up the acceleration and maybe get it just right for your own preference, along with a long list of other options. Don’t think you can do that with the stock browser and Dolphin.

imageHaving the add-ons button as one of four buttons that pop up when you hit menu and having that same add-ons management list accessible through the browser’s settings seems redundant and a waste of space, however perhaps it’s a good idea while they’re trying to pick up some users to more effectively showcase the add-ons which, again, are impressive.

No man, no adblocker just yet, sorry.

In less than a month these developers have changed something I described as unusable, ugly, clunky and very unstable, something that offered essentially no reason for me to want to use it over the stock browser, to not only a usable browser, but a browser that is now in the league of the stock browser, Dolphin and Opera and in addition to that it has enough unique functionality both out of the box and with the add-ons that the others don’t so there’s a decent chance that if you install this on your Android phone you may discover within maybe five to eight minutes that it’s worthy of a launcher bar shortcut. All right maybe not the bar but at least the home screen. Less than a month. Among the words for that is prolific.


I only nitpicked a couple of imperfections but noted that at least one or two of them could probably be tweaked in about:config, and maybe I’m in a minority who would prefer if those things were different. On top of that, at the pace these guys are going having shifted gears, I’m confident that this browser is growing some legs and I look forward to seeing the changes this nightly has appear in the market and for this thing to gain the popularity it has started to earn.

So Matt Brubeck, pat on the ass to you and whoever else you got working with you in Mountain View, a city I’d do NSFW things in order to be offered a job in order to tell my wife to quit hers because we’ve got to move all our shit out west because some guy made this weird deal with me I’d rather not discuss. Sorry I unloaded harshly in that other post but hey, it was tough love and it worked, so I take full credit for these dramatic improvements. Just give me something that automatically turns Google Image’s safe search off and links the thumbnails directly to the images grabbing them over Tor somehow and we’re good.

Doug Simmons