While there is a lot of information about Firefox development, little is known about Mozilla’s involvement with the mobile web experience. So, I talked to Doug Turner, lead developer for Minimo, a Gecko-based mobile web browser; and Joey, a personal content sharing system that allows you to upload selected content to the web and view it with a mobile browser.
Mozilla Links: How long have you been involved with Minimo?
Doug Turner: I have been involved with Minimo since around 2000 or so. I was part of a team that was tasked to take Gecko and make it run on Linux devices. The devices were basically HP iPaqs that were converted to run Linux. Most of the work was to get footprint under control. Much of this effort directly aided the other Mozilla projects at the time (the Mozilla suite).
I was employee twelve or thirteen of the Mozilla Foundation. I was to focus on embedding and mobile. I helped a bunch of companies embed Gecko as well as managed our mobile effort on consumer handhelds.
As we grew the focus on embedding was reduced. I ended up focusing on Minimo exclusively and then in 2006 I stopped focusing on it as my day-job.
Now I am pretty much focused in a labs organization in Mozilla experimenting with mobile.
How many people contribute to Minimo? What is its current status? Is there a roadmap?
There are only a few contributors to Minimo itself. Of course, there are hundreds of people that contribute to the Mozilla technology that Minimo is based on. As to core developers of Minimo, there are about three part time people.
The current status is maintenance. I try to create builds every three to four months, roll in some features that I am interested in. There isn’t a roadmap for the project.
As mobile devices become more powerful the choice of going with a full desktop browser or a mobile version like Minimo doesn’t seem so obvious. For example there’s both a Minimo and a Firefox-based browser for Maemo. Where do you think should the line be drawn? Could at some point mobile and desktop browsers converge?
Well, there are a couple points here. First, from the end user’s point of view, power isn’t the only lever. Reduced screen real estate, terrible user input devices, high network latency, and limited battery lives also contribute to a need for a “different” browsing experience. I do not think that running the desktop version of Firefox will work on a device with QVGA [Quarter VGA or 320 x 240) screen. So, some modifications will be required at the very least.
Secondly, from the technology point of view we should be using a full browser under the hood. We shouldn’t subset standards where possible as doing so fragments the web and makes content producers jobs harder (think back to the IE versus Netscape DOM problems of the 90s).
What are Mozilla plans for mobile devices?
Mozilla has no secret plans of world domination nor for mobile — at least non that I can share with you. ;-) We are hiring great engineers to help focus on mobile. It is clear that Mozilla technology can be ported and run on various devices. This, along with the Mozilla 2.0 effort, will allow us to much easier run on smaller devices… or so is the thinking.
I think the general feeling is we should build a browser on Mozilla technologies. The target platform would be Mozilla 2.0. The devices would be the ones with a real SDK (Windows Mobile, S60, Linux). How we get there, and when are the things that no one has really called out nor has committed to.
What’s coming for Joey? Is Joey a signal of Mozilla’s vision of web enabled devices or just another approach?
It is just another approach. Joey is a way for you to take the content and media data that you see in the browser with you regardless of what kind of browser you have on the mobile phone. Long term, this might be an interesting way to sync between your computers and mobiles. Shorter term, it has been a exercise in building mobile software and many of the pain points I will be sharing.
Have you tried the iPhone?
I have one. Greatest phone I have had. And one of the crappiest.
I absolutely love the risk they took with the input, the kinetic scrolling, the glass display. It is the year’s best device without a doubt. The browser is nice. I don’t like that it doesn’t remember my passwords (as input still sucks on any device). And all of the buzzkill around the Edge network is over blown -it works pretty okay for my needs.
However, there are great problems with it. The messaging to developers has been “use the web”. So, if I want to write an application, I should just make a web page. That is a great message as it drives awareness about all that you can do with web standards. However, I don’t understand Apple’s lack on consistency: why did they have to create separate native applications for stocks, YouTube, weather, etc.
I don’t get why they still charge for it. Seams so 90’s, doesn’t it? It is a browser after all. It is a choice for users, and that is great.
Yes, I own an OpenMoko device. OpenMoko got it right with its openness. I really wish them a ton of success as they have a lot of work to do before it is ready for “real people”. :-) It is hugely promising.
Thanks to Doug Turner for taking the time to let us all know more about Mozilla and the mobile web. If you want to know more, stay tuned to Mozilla Links as I plan to increase coverage on the mobile area.