Firefox Mobile inches towards 1.0, sheds Flash support

Is it two steps forward, one leap back for Firefox Mobile?

Article updated 1/28/2010 at 8:50 am PT with a comment from Adobe and at 9:45 am with more news from Firefox.

Firefox 1.0 RC2 (Maemo)

It's been a long slog getting Firefox Mobile off the ground, but on Wednesday, Mozilla announced a third release candidate for its mobile browser. (Our First Look video gives an overview of RC2, the previous version.) Once code-named Fennec, Firefox 1.0 for Nokia's Maemo platform is achingly close.

Or is it? Firefox for Maemo 1.0 RC3 may signal that we're one step closer to getting a full-fledged Firefox browser on a mobile device, but the app has also taken a step back since RC2 emerged two weeks ago, shedding support for the Adobe Flash plug-in that Mozilla said in a blog post "degraded the performance of the browser to the point where it didn't meet our standards."

The plug-in is not the same as an extension or add-on, Mozilla stresses. Support for extensions like Weave remain intact in Firefox for Maemo 1.0 RC3. Mozilla does go on to point out that power testers can still manually turn on experimental plug-in support using about:config.

An Adobe spokesperson contacted CNET to add that "the "Adobe Flash plug-in" referenced was Flash version 9 for desktop Linux. This version of the runtime was not really optimized for mobile platforms, and as such we wouldn't expect it to perform perfectly."

There will be workarounds in place by the time the general release surfaces, which Mozilla told NET in an interview on Thursday could be as soon as this Friday. Mozilla showed us a test version of an add-on created by an in-house developer to enable Flash for YouTube videos. In the short term, users could see an extension in Firefox 1.0 for Maemo for enabling the Flash plug-in across all sites, plus individual workaround extensions like the currently unnamed YouTube add-on for enabling Flash for the more popular sites or videos.

The third Firefox release candidate does fix some performance bugs and should reduce the amount of crashing that testers have noticed. You can download Firefox for Maemo RC3 for the Nokia N900 or N810 Internet tablet, though if RC2 is already installed, expect Mozilla's automatic update.

Mozilla hinted that the general Firefox release could be as soon as Friday, bundled with one of these workaround plug-ins. That's a start. We would rather see a workaround or even a fourth release candidate than see Mozilla rush to complete Firefox before it's truly ready for the public, and for its voracious consumption of Flash sites.

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