Firefox’s Android reboot begins tomorrow

It was a tough decision for Firefox on Android: improve the browser’s performance or keep its compatibility with add-ons and other technology?

But after creating a prototype, Mozilla settled on the winning answer quickly: performance. And tomorrow, a month after making the decision, Mozilla plans to release an early version of the overhauled Firefox for Android.

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The organization will introducethe new version on the “nightly” channel, where Mozilla tests raw new technology. With the organization’s rapid-release cycle, the nightly version graduates to the Aurora, beta, and final-release channels, maturing for six weeks in each phase.

The new version is strategically important for Mozilla for multiple reasons. First, smartphones and tablets are at the center of a mobile-first transformation of the computing industry, and Firefox isn’t preinstalled anywhere right now. Second, with Firefox not possible on Apple’s iOS or Microsoft’s Windows Phone, Android is effectively the only route for Mozilla to bring its browser to the mobile market.

Last, Mozilla’s objective–to ensure an open Web–relies on Firefox. Right now, Apple and Google browsers based on the open-source WebKit project dominate mobile browsing.

Release manager Christian Legnitto announced the move Friday. Initially the new version was geared just for phones, but Mozilla expanded it to tablets, too, after concluding it couldn’t offer separate versions.

Firefox for personal computers, and many of the add-ons that helped make the browser popular by making it more customizable, use an interface called XUL (XML User Interface Language). But because the XUL-based version of Firefox took so long to start up on Android and isn’t as responsive, Mozilla instead embraced Andoid’s built-in technology.

Among the native interface advantages, according to programmer Mark Finkle: