Mozilla Minimo 0.2 Enters Crowded Mobile Browser Market

Mozilla fans can now download the latest version of the Minimo mobile browser to their smartphones. News of the release of Minimo 0.2 came last week as a posting on project leader Doug Turner’s blog “DougT’s Ramblings.” The browser is available via the Mozilla Project’s Web page.

This may, however, be the last Minimo release for a while, according to several blog entries posted by Turner, who in December wrote that he has “not been spending a lot of time on Minimo recently,” but had been “doing a lot of thinking about Minimo’s potential and the many issues that must be overcome (both on the business side as well as on the technical side).

“The summary is that there are lots of browsers in the space, the market is tightly control[led] by cellular operators, and the end users aren’t using the browser,” Turner wrote. “This will change, but not for a few years.”

Browser on the Go

Minimo 0.2, available as a free download, provides users with fast access to mobile content via the Homebase start page, social bookmarking and tabbed browsing. The browser also offers the “best support” for modern Web sites such as Javascript and Ajax, according to its makers. In addition, it also supports a variety of Web technologies, including Really Simple Syndication (RSS), Global Positioning System (GPS), widgets and extensions. Minimo comes with international support and is compatible with Windows Mobile 5.0.

According to a review posted on the Minimo forum, the new and improved mobile application also boasts a 25 percent increase in its page loading speed and can load Web pages with multiple links. On the downside, however, the reviewer took issue with the 13.5 MB of RAM the application uses, a more than twofold increase over the older 0.1x versions. Those familiar with the browser may also lament the loss of Windows Mobile 2003 (SE) compatibility and the lack of such new features as page saving, link target saving and direct link copying to the clipboard.

The Minimo project, though not under the official auspices of Mozilla, is one of the oldest third-party browsers available. The project was intended to create a version of the Mozilla Web browser that could be used on smaller devices such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) and smartphones.

Who Wants It?

The 0.2 release, though welcome, took some users by surprise following Turner’s December blog post in which it seemed he was ready to pass the baton of responsibility to another.

Instead, Turner said he would turn his attention to “some ideas that would help improve the lives of Firefox users that have mobile phones without having to build a full browser” that came up during a brainstorming session at the Firefox Summit.

“Minimo will continue to live as an open source project, but I will have quite limited time to hack on it,” Turner explained. “If you are interested in stepping up, drop me mail.”

Who’s Using It?

Turner’s decision to spend his time on pursuits other than developing the mobile browser is perhaps understandable. Statistics show that a only a small number of Internet users go online using handheld devices.

“My research finds that about 1 percent of users say that they use their phone for Internet browsing,” Bill Hughes, principal analyst at In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld. “The 1 percent must be hearty souls if they use anything other than a QWERTY keyboard on their phone. Even still, it requires more dexterity and/or patience than I have for widespread use.”

The scarcity of users combined with the relatively large number of available mobile browsers is a major problem for Minimo, especially since it does not have the support of a mobile phone vendor, Michael King, a research director at Gartner, told TechNewsWorld.

“The current situation is that virtually any phone that has more functionality than a ‘basic phone’ will have a browser,” Hughes said in agreement.

In 2004, the future looked a bit brighter for Minimo following the announcement from Nokia that the phone manufacturer had invested millions in the project. That support had come to an end by 2005 when the company announced it would develop its own open source browser based on code from Apple’s Safari browser.

“It is difficult for a third party to enter the space without a handset vendor and operation vendor supporting them,” King explained. “Opera has the support Nokia and Pocket IE obviously has the support of Microsoft. In order for this to become a dominant browser it will have to ally itself with a handset vendor or operation vendor.”

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