Mozilla to support H.264 on mobile

Mozilla CTO, Brendan Eich announced today on his personal blog that Mozilla has taken the hard decision to support the H.264 video format on mobile editions of Firefox.

The reasons are pretty clear: Mozilla and Opera seem to be fighting this battle alone (EDIT: sort of, Brendan clarifies that Opera already supports H.264 on mobile), and the result is a less than optimal experience for mobile users: WebM or Theora are more power consuming since they don’t have widespread hardware acceleration support. Support that would come if more major players (browser makers and content providers) would come aboard.

Google announced a year ago that it would drop H.264 support from Android and Chrome in favor of WebM, the open format it bought and released a year earlier. But it hasn’t happened, while YouTube, the main web video property keeps HTML5 video as a hardly discoverable feature and covers just about a third of all videos, out of 100% as announced by Google years ago.

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Firefox Mobile coming backwards to your (ARMv6) phone

Firefox running on ARMv6 HTC phoneA few years ago Mozilla chose to focus on version 7 of the ARM platform instruction set (ARMv7), as it was the only one that provided the necessary performance to deliver a good Firefox experience, and much less crashing prone.

Fast forward, and as Ted Mielczarek, Mozilla build expert, explains, Mozilla has both now: a stronger mobile team, and a more complete picture. It turns out that about 60% of Android phones in use right now are ARMv6-based, which means 60% of Android phones can’t get Firefox. So it makes perfect sense to invest in having Firefox serve such a large mobile audience.

The ARMv6 instruction set is implemented by the ARM11 microprocessor family, running on a long list of well known, if lower end or a generation behind phones including the Samsung Galaxy Mini, Galaxy Ace, Amazon Kindle 2, HTC Touch, Diamond, LG Optimus One, S, Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, X2, and a very long etcetera. Check Wikipedia’s entry for ARM11 for a more complete list.

Ted doesn’t mention it, but I am guessing the decision to have Firefox use native Android widgets, as opposed to Mozilla’s own XUL-based ones, is also helping to ease processor requirements.

Work is under way, and while there’s a lot of ironing to do, Firefox is running on ARMv6. The picture from Ted’s Twitter feed shows Firefox running in an HTC phone.

In this scenery, and just like on Windows, Firefox would become more backward compatible than the OS maker. Chrome for Android beta is at this point only supported on Ice Cream Sandwich, Android’s latest version. (By the way, Chrome also has a crazy country-based restriction!).

If you are interested in the subject check Ted’s nice and detailed post.

First look to Firefox Mobile (Fennec) Alpha 1

Originally announced a year ago, Mozilla has released the ninth (first official) development milestone of Fennec, the mobile device edition of Firefox.

Current development is oriented and based on Nokia Internet Tablet platform (powered by Linux-based Maemo), and this first release is available for this platform only.

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