Changes Coming to Firefox for Android

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Changes Coming to Firefox for Android

Post by CharmCityCrab » 2019-01-15, 20:20

Technically, they are calling the new Android project Fenix right now, but I assume that it will simply be the new Firefox for Android rather than actually being called Fenix when it goes gold and replaces the existing Firefox for Android browser (Sort of like the way Quantum and Photon became the next iterations of Firefox and Gecko on desktop). Some tech press is making the opposite assumption, but they don't cite a source, it seems to just be assumed. Either way, regardless of the name, this is what will be Mozilla's primary browser on Android after a certain point (It'll either become Firefox, or Firefox will be discontinued on Android in favor of this).

There are a variety of UI changes, but I wanted to sort of focus in on an under the hood change that I am not sure I understand, which is this excerpt from the GHacks article:
Firefox users who use the browser on Android may have noticed that development slowed down in recent time. Updates are still released regularly but they address issues such as slowdowns, crashes, or security issues for the most part.

The core reason for that is that Mozilla's working on Fenix, a new mobile browser for Android. Fenix is based on Android Components and GeckoView. In other words, Fenix will be powered by built-in components on Android and Mozilla's GeckoView.
Source: ... d-mockups/

It almost sounds like to me, as a relatively non-technical person (I have a friend in IT who says I am sort of a low-level power user, but really I think I'm somewhere between just a user and a power use- I know a little bit more than most people, but not much), like what they are planning on doing is keeping Gecko as a rendering engine but using built in Android Components for the rest of the backbone of the browser.

If that's the case, it seems kind of odd to me, because really the rendering engine is where there are the most potential compatibility issues and where they're going to have to keep chasing Blink to keep up with websites that code specifically for Blink/Webkit, which is even more common in the mobile sphere than in the desktop sphere because of relative marketshare. The backbone, where they seem to be replacing their own components with Android components, seems like the area where they could differentiate more easily without hurting the user experience. I expected essentially the opposite of what they seem to be planning, though I recognize the value of trying to keep Gecko and any other alternatives to Blink/Webkit alive as sort of a principled stand about needing a more diverse rendering engine ecosystem than just Blink and Webkit (Which are themselves very similar to each other, as Blink is a fork of Webkit).

Anyhow, I had a few questions that I thought some of you here might be able to offer some answers or speculation to...

1. Will the use of Android Components limit the ability of Firefox to run on Android forks and the open-source version of Android without the Google suite of apps and services (i.e. Kindle Fire, Android with F-Droid rather than Google Play, various open-source versions of Android intended to be flashed onto Android phones to replace the preinstalled OS that can't include some Google components and apps for legal reasons)?

2. Will this change mean that Firefox will no longer be able to run extensions like UBlock Origin, and themes or personas? If I can't run an ad-blocker, that'll be a deal breaker for me and I'll find a browser that can. If I can't run themes or personas, I'd settle for a dark mode or even a "cool color" mode with blues and greens or whatever- anything that isn't blinding white, orange, yellow, etc., but if forced to only run it in blinding white mode, I'd also look for a different mobile browser.

3. What are some potential benefits and drawbacks to this approach relative to their current approach on Android?

I wouldn't have posted this here if Pale Moon had an Android browser it was actively developing and maintaining. Since it doesn't, I figured it'd be okay to discuss other mobile browsers, since many of us have phones or tablets and obviously are using some kind of browser on those.

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Re: Changes Coming to Firefox for Android

Post by vannilla » 2019-01-16, 12:29

I don't know how Firefox for Android is developed and how is structured, but in theory using the Android components for building the user interface is a good idea.
To begin with, since they are Android's own components, they are guaranteed to work as the system wants to. Probably the Mozilla components did too, but there are some aspects, like themes, that would need a complete reimplementation of the whole graphical toolkit if you don't use the built-in components.
It's basically the same way how Pale Moon on Linux uses GTK for UI components.
Since "GeckoView" still uses Gecko, the actual webpage rendering shouldn't change.
If it's true that they simply change the user interface, the application should work on non-Google versions too, in theory.