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Mozilla sidesteps iPhone code ban with Firefox Home

Firefox without the Firefox

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Mozilla won't submit a Firefox browser to Apple's iPhone App Store. It has no intention of taking its browser where "it's not wanted." But the open source outfit is developing an iPhone incarnation of Firefox Sync, the browser bookmark-syncing service formerly known as Weave.

Mozilla has been exploring such a project for months, and yesterday, the open source outfit made a formal announcement on The Mozilla Blog. The iPhone app is known as Firefox Home, and it provides remote access to your Firefox browsing history, bookmarks, recent tabs, and "Awesome bar" - the new-age Firefox address bar that suggests sites based on where you've surfed in the past.

In other words, Firefox Home lets you tap your desktop Firefox setup from your Jesus Phone. "Left work in a hurry? You can pick up where you left off with access to the list of tabs you just had open on your desktop," Mozilla's blog post reads.

"Need those directions to that restaurant you were just reading about on your desktop? The confirmation code for your flight? Just start typing in the Awesome Bar and those pages will be right at your fingertips."

Of course, when you actually visit a site, you'll have to use the iPhone's native Safari web browser. And this means you can't synchronize what you do on the phone with your desktop Firefox. Firefox Sync lets you synchronize data across multiple devices, but Firefox Home is strictly a one-way affair.

Famously, Apple's end user licensing agreement for the iPhone SDK forbids applications from downloading and running interpreted code, and this rules out a full-fledged third-party browsers such as Firefox. Opera Mini is available for the iPhone, but it makes use of proxy servers for code execution. The servers compress webpages and send them down to the phone as static content.

Mozilla has made it quite clear it will not challenge the Jobsian code ban. "But there's no plans or intention or discussion around building a browser [on the iPhone]," Mozilla director of community development Asa Dotzler told The Reg late last year. But the company will continue to explore ways of working around the ban.

"Firefox Home for iPhone is part of a broader Mozilla effort to provide a more personal Web experience with more user control," Mozilla says. "For devices or platforms where we’re unable to provide the “full” Firefox browser (either technically or due to policy), we aim to provide users with “on the go” instant access to their personal Firefox history, bookmarks and open tabs on their iPhones, giving them another reason to keep loving Firefox on their desktops."

Firefox Home has not yet been submitted to the App Store, but Mozilla intends to do so after it has "polished this off."

Meanwhile, there is no Jobsian code ban on Android, and Mozilla is now producing nightly builds of the pre-Alpha Android incarnation of Firefox - codenamed Fennec - just as it does with the desktop and Nokia N900 versions of the browser.

Currently, the builds only run on Android 2.0 and above, and the pre-alphaness can cause phones to stop responding (we've experienced this first-hand). But when you consider Steve Jobs' pathological obsession with controlling code on the iPhone, the limitations of the current Firefox for Android are welcome pleasures. ®

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