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Microsoft has taken the wraps off a prototype version of a browser for mobile devices that it claims will make it easier and faster to view full-fat web pages on a small screen.

The Deepfish browser displays thumbnails on a web page as a point of reference. Users can then highlight a section of a page and zoom in or out as required to view the page in detail, as explained in a demo video here.

The browser is designed to maintain the page layout of web pages, rather than reformatting them to fit a small screen, making it easier for surfers to find menus or other navigational information.

Instead of expecting web designers to shoulder the burden of making sites mobile-friendly, Microsoft is working on the premise that client software should shoulder the work of presenting standard web pages on small-screen devices. The browser aims to recreate the desktop browsing experience on a mobile phone or PDA.

The software giant said Deepfish is faster at loading web pages than earlier browsers for mobile devices because it only loads only portions of a page a user is interested in. "It loads a thumbnail of pages initially and then only what is needed for more detail when requested or in the background as you browse the initial view, resulting in substantially quicker load times for most pages," a posting on Microsoft's Live Labs website explains.

The "alpha" software is compatible with Windows Mobile version 5 (or higher) and available for download as a technology preview on a restricted basis via the Microsoft Live Labs website. The software is a work in progress. At present there's no support for common web features such as cookies or JavaScript, for example.

There's no firm timescale for the roll-out of the product or even definite plans that the technology will be incorporated in the next version of Microsoft's mobile browser software.

Earlier this week, Microsoft said it was backing the launch of ZenZui, a firm focused on mobile device content. ZenZui's Zooming User Interface is based on technology from Microsoft's research labs. Microsoft's IP Ventures also helped ZenZui secure venture capital funding.

Against Microsoft's re-invigorated push into the mobile browser marketplace, rival Opera announced that downloads of its Opera Mobile Web browser increased more than 50 per cent on Opera's website from February 2006 to February 2007. Manufacturers, such as HTC and Toshiba, are preloading Opera on their handsets, it added. ®

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