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Opera Mobile for Android: it's no Fatfox

Chunky Mozilla browser shamed

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Update: Opera now says that the install size of Opera for Android will be about 20MB and that the download size is 6.5MB. This story has been updated accordingly.

Opera Mobile won't show up on Android as fat as Firefox 4.

Late last week, Mozilla released an obese Firefox 4 beta that required about 40MB of storage space – no small thing when you consider that so many Android phones are limited to between 64 and 512MB of app storage.

Mozilla blames at least part of Firefox's fatness on the Android native development kit, which forces the open source outfit to save the browser's rendering files in two places: inside its Android package (APK) file and in a folder on the handset.

But according to Opera Mobile and Mini product manager Phillips Gronvold, Open Mobile for Android will have an install size of 20MB (after a 6.5MB download).

"We have fifteen years of experience putting browsers on small devices," he tells The Reg. As the company announced yesterday at a press event in Oslo, Norway, the browser will arrive in the Android app marketplace place within the month.

The Norwegians already offer an Android incarnation of their low-bandwidth Opera Mini browser, which taps into Opera proxy servers that intercept and compress web pages before sending them down to the handset. But it has yet to offer the more complete Opera Mobile browser on the Google operating system. Opera Mobile is capable of accessing the web through those same proxy servers, but it can also directly access the net, downloading pages in full.

Yes, Mozilla is working to shrink its fat Firefox. Developer Michael Wu is fashioning a dynamic linker that can load the rendering libraries from the APK without copying them to a folder. And according to Mozilla, this will cut the installation size by more than half. But it will increase startup time, and however small it gets, we still question Mozilla's position on mobiles.

The Firefox alpha for Android was practically unusable. Even if you can spare the space for the beta, its performance is still shockingly poor. The browser will never be available on the iPhone. And it has landed on only one other mobile platform: Nokia Maemo.

As difficult a time as Mozilla faces on the desktop with Google now playing the browser game, it's facing a far greater battle on mobiles. There was good reason to adopt Firefox on the desktop in the mid oughts. But the modern mobile browser market has panned out quite differently.

Mozilla's position is in stark contrast to the mobileness of Opera, which already has a strong foothold on handsets thanks in large part to the low-bandwidth Opera Mini, a browser that's right at home on good old fashioned feature phones.

On Thursday, in Oslo, the company laid claim to 71 million active Opera Mini users, and Gronvold tells us that this only includes those who've used the browser at least once in the past thirty days. Opera Mini is even available on the iPhone. Thanks to those proxy servers, it doesn't interpret code on the Jobsian holy handheld.

Since the Apple app police approved Opera Mini for the Jesus Phone in April, Jobs has "clarified" developer rules for the device, and among other things, the new laws say that: "Apps that browse the web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript." Gronvold acknowledges the new phrase worries Opera a bit. But he contends that in a sense, Opera Mini isn't browsing the web. It's merely receiving compressed pages from a proxy server.

But even if the ever capricious Apple police bring the hammer on Mini, Opera is better placed on mobiles than a certain other browser maker. ®

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