Impressions Using Firefox Home

These days there are increasingly fewer things about which I still act like much of a fanboy, especially in the world of technology. Firefox seems to be resistant to that trend, whatever its cause. Undoubtedly the bigger picture view of Mozilla’s advocacy for open standards is a larger part of my continuing devotion. That being said, it is hardly surprising Firefox is one of the few bits of software I really want to be able to run everywhere, including my sole, smart mobile device, an aging iPod Touch.

Mozilla has made it clear that they have no plans to port the mobile version of Firefox, Fennec, to Apple’s mobile platform. They did, however, announce an interesting compromise, an iPhone app called Firefox Home. It essentially is a client for Mozilla’s encrypted sync service, originally called Weave but recently re-branded as simply Firefox Sync. The roadmap has Sync being pulled into the browser itself as a 1st class feature with the forthcoming version 4. Right now, it is still an add-on.

I prefer Sync to similar solutions for coordinating bookmarks and other data between browser instances on multiple machines because Mozilla has very intentionally built it so you can run your own Sync server if you so desire. They’ve also worked to make running it off of their servers as palatable as possible, encrypting and decrypting data that flows through the services only at the browser.

I was thrilled to see Home, which had been submitted to Apple for inclusion in their app store, received approval today. I of course immediately installed it and gave it a whirl.

In broad strokes, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It makes your synced bookmarks, tabs, and history available and searchable with an awesome bar-like UI. Unfortunately, this version lacks some of the features of the awesome bar, such as being able to limit searches to tags (+) or history (*), but it is still incredibly useful. The app partially makes up for the command-line like modifiers by having separate views where you can access just your open tabs from other machines and a bookmark view that is pretty similar to the sidebar view of bookmarks in the Firefox browser proper.

What I found surprising is that Home embeds WebKit, so clicking on any of the sites visible in the various views brings up a browser view immediately. This is pretty common to iPhone apps so I am not sure why it surprises me. I also feel a little weird using a Mozilla app that doesn’t ultimately use their rendering engine–maybe that’s the source of my surprise.

Regardless, I find this app very useful for how I tend to use my Firefox bookmarks. I have a folder, named “Queue”, that is my read later bucket. Now I have access to that with my iPod Touch where it is often most convenient to peruse some article or post I’ve bookmarked entirely out of curiosity, not an item I’ve saved for the more intensive reading I do for the blog and podcast.

My sole complaint is probably not the fault of Mozilla. On my aging first generation iPod Touch, Home feels a bit sluggish. It makes sense as I have a considerable amount of synced data. The settings page says 2000 history items and 622 bookmarks. I don’t see any way to tweak how much Home syncs, versus my full browser instances using the Sync add-on. I suspect that would help with my particular situation. I’d be curious to hear from anyone with a newer, faster iPhone, iPad or iPod who has also installed Firefox Home to confirm my suspicions about its poor performance being a consequence of my well worn miniature tablet.

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