Mozilla is making a significant strategy shift for mobile development. Instead of going against the grain, they’re going with the flow and going native for the Android version of Firefox.
The move toward a native implementation of Firefox for Android is likely to debut for Firefox 10. By moving to a native user interface, Mozilla developers hope to deliver a faster browser that uses less memory.
Currently Firefox for Android uses the XUL (XML User Interface Language) to power the Gecko rendering engine in Firefox.
“After substantial discussion, we have decided to build future versions of Firefox on Android with a native UI instead of the current XUL implementation,” Mozilla’s Director of Firefox, Johnathan Nightingale worte in a mailing list posting. “To be clear, we’re still building on Gecko. This change is just about the way we build our UI.”
Firefox use of Gecko differs from both Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari, which both use the WebKit rendering engine.
As part of the move toward a native Android interface, Mozilla developers are planning to make more use of standard Android controls, including the hardware system menu button and back button. The design of the native UI also has the goal of ensuring that touch actions on the mobile device are passed on to the browser web content.
By going the native route, Nightingale expects that Firefox for Android will become faster than the current implementation with XUL.
“A native UI can be presented much faster than a XUL-based UI, since it can happen in parallel with Gecko startup,” Nightingale said. “This means startup times in fractions of a second, versus several seconds for a XUL UI on some phones.”
The Firefox Mobile effort has faced many transitions over the years. Initially the effort was known as Fennec and targeted the Maemo mobile operating system. Maemo was a Nokia mobile operating system that morphed into the MeeGo operating system, that Nokia has since abandoned in favor of Windows Mobile.
Mozilla has since moved its efforts from Maemo to Android and the first Firefox for Android release debuted in March of this year.
Detailed plans on the development for the new native interface are being discussed at a Mozilla meeting this week in Toronto.
“By the end of next week, we will have a clearer outline of the work ahead, and we’ll update this list with those details,” Nightingale said.