With little or no chance of ever being able to make it through the draconian approval process of Apple’s (s AAPL) iTunes App Store, Mozilla, the not-for-profit organization behind the Firefox browser, is betting on two major, if emerging, mobile operating platforms: Maemo, Nokia’s (s nok) new Linux-based operating system, and Google’s (s goog) Android OS. But don’t count on Mozilla supporting RIM’s (s rimm) BlackBerry OS anytime soon.
And Lilly isn’t just tooting his own horn. I’ve been playing around with an early version of Nokia’s N900 device, and Firefox is perhaps its single biggest standout feature. It works just like it does on a desktop and, thanks to the seamless integration of AwesomeBar, a smarter version of a URL bar that uses Mozilla Weave, I can get access to all my bookmarks, my browsing history and other preferences. (Related Post: “Coming Soon: A Mozilla App for the iPhone“)
When I asked Lilly about why Mozilla is interested in the Nokia Maemo, which is still not a viable platform, he explained that Mozilla was betting on the future and Maemo was a modern mobile OS built with the Internet in mind. “Nokia is invisible in the U.S., but that is not the case in rest of the world,” Lilly said. Even if N900 doesn’t prove to be the device that gets explosive adoption, then the next Maemo device will be the one that gets traction. Mozilla will release Firefox for Windows Mobile and then Android, he said.
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Why? Because he thinks there is a lot of overlap among folks who use Firefox and those who might buy Android-based devices. When I asked why not develop Firefox for BlackBerry, Lilly said that because the BlackBerry is a Java-based platform, Mozilla had no interest in building a browser for it, regardless of the number of devices in use. Mozilla also has some misgivings about Symbian, preferring to develop for Maemo instead.
“Until recently, Android was Java, but they released Android NDK which uses C/C++ and that is what we program in, so we are now looking at developing Firefox for Android,” said Jay Sullivan, vice president of Mobile for Mozilla.
The reason: Mozilla wants developers to embrace the more open HTML5 standards instead of developing separately for different mobile platforms. “For a company of 20 people, it is hard to support multiple platforms,” Lilly said. “Even if one platform takes 20 percent of the market, there are other platforms you still need to develop for, and that isn’t easy for a small company. So that is why we are with Google in supporting HTML5 technologies.”
Like Lilly, Sullivan acknowledges that they have their work cut out for them: Webkit-based browsers and Opera are the dominant players in mobile, and Firefox will need to prove itself. The good news is that mobile is a much bigger market than desktops; multiple browsers and companies can thrive. With Nokia, Mozilla has a willing (and somewhat desperate) ally, and that is a good start.