Add-ons in Firefox's first mobile browser

We give you a video tour of Firefox 1.0--first seen on Nokia--and talk mobile add-ons.

In week since Mozilla released the first Firefox browser for mobile phones, we've had a better chance to explore the Web on the Nokia N900. Firefox for Maemo, as it's called, is also available for the N810 Internet Tablet.

Firefox 1.0 for Maemo

We go over some of our observations in the First Look video here, pointing out that extensions, in particular, are the browser's most notable innovation for Firefox mobile.

There are some limitations to the way Firefox handles the add-ons screens. For a start, the search engine icons you see when you begin a search (for Google, Wikipedia, or so on) count as pre-installed add-ons. That makes removing them easy, but it also takes up space in the add-ons manager, which is knock against Firefox for Maemo since maximizing screen real estate is the gold standard of the mobile experience. In this case, that precious space should be devoted exclusively to showing off add-ons.

So far, new add-ons are hard to find. Firefox mobile surfaces five recommended extensions at a time; expect the YouTube Enabler and Weave Sync to be at the top of a newcomer's list. Although there is a search bar, there's no way to browse the add-on catalog from the device. Your best bet is to discover what you want from the online catalog, which is clearly less than ideal for mobile users. Mozilla's Firefox developers might consider creating one screen for managing add-ons you already have, and another for discovering new ones, just like with NoScript, Adblock Plus, and TwitterBar.

We took some time with the Weave Sync extension in particular. Weave Sync is Mozilla's syncing add-on for tabs, history, and so on. Though it works among multiple computers, it was also envisioned to help mobile Firefox users quickly access tabs and search history without typing. You'll naturally need Weave installed on your desktop and mobile to get the two talking. We learned the hard way on a loaner Nokia N900 that your phone's clock has to be spot-on for many add-ons to work.

Weave Sync stores the encrypted data on its servers, which means the computer doesn't have to be on for you to access desktop content. However, since Weave rightly syncs tabs and bookmarks on its own only periodically, you had better manually sync those tabs if you want to be sure you can pick up on mobile where you left off on the desktop.

Where else does Firefox mobile need attention? Letting you optionally lock down a home page that loads each time you open the app, and accessing the download manager and remote desktop tabs before you load a URL. Text search and copy and paste are other features in Opera Mini and Opera mobile that we'd like to see in Firefox mobile. Performance speed and reliable Flash support are other areas that need work to help turn Firefox mobile from a nifty experiment into a viable multiplatform mobile browser.

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