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View Full Version : MWC: Web Browser News (BOLT, Opera, Fennec, Iris, Skyfire, Flash)

02-21-2009, 10:33 PM
Just like last year (see my previous year's article HERE (http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blogs/3/mwc_web_browsing_webkit_thunderhawk_news)), I have REALLY a lot to report on Web browsing, the just-announced stuff and so on.


1. At MWC, the Opera folks announced their brand new service called Opera Turbo (official page HERE (http://www.opera.com/business/solutions/turbo/)), allowing for massive data usage savings and speedup, particularly over a slow (for example, GPRS) connection.

This isn’t (still) available to end users as it’s mobile operators that need to install the server-side component on their servers to do the data compression. This is quite a bit different from Opera Mini’s solution, which goes through the servers deployed and maintained by the Opera folks themselves.

You may ask why the Opera staff doesn’t maintain the same serverpark to serve Opera Turbo clients. The question seems to be easy to answer: it’d cause in a lot of additional traffic for Opera. With Opera Mini, the majority of this can be directly saved as the Web pages returned to the Opera Mini client are preformatted and stripped of for example dynamic (scripting) and CSS (styling) components. The internal page layout language is also much simpler than the “real” HTML used in everyday Web pages, resulting in further data usage saving. With fully fledged (non-simplified) clients, all this would be gone, meaning two-three times more data usage between the client machine and the Opera servers. Now, a significant (if I remember correctly, about 60%) of Norway’s Web traffic is caused by the Opera Mini servers – you can have an idea what this would become when every, say, second mobile user switched to using Opera Turbo on his or her laptop. No wonder they don’t offer the service to everyone - unlike with their Opera Mini -, but ask the individual mobile operators to deploy them. That is, it’s pretty silly to accuse of Opera of not being very user-friendly by not offering the service without a third party (in this case, mobile operators).

BTW, on desktop Windows, the service will only be compatible with Opera’s own (desktop) browser, not Internet Explorer or Firefox. It’s high time you switched to Opera on your desktop, though – Opera Link, particularly if you also use Opera Mini on your handhelds / handsets, is very hard to beat. And, hopefully, the, in my opinion, biggest problem of the Opera browser, the lack of auto-completion will surely be fixed in the near future – I’ve asked the Opera folks to, finally, implement this (along with the italic support in Opera Mini) and they seem to listen to me.

2. Opera has just released a new version of their Opera Mobile 9.51b2 browser; now, together with Google Gears (see THIS (http://labs.opera.com/news/2009/02/20/) for more info on what it’s about) support. It’s, as usual, available HERE (http://labs.opera.com/downloads/) (follow the “Windows Mobile 5/6 Pocket PC, version 9.51b2, Gears-enabled technical preview” link).

A quick note: if you don’t want to give up on the advantages of the current, latest version of Opera Mobile (that is, the Omnia build version (http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blog/9/full-roundup-browsing-web-windows-mobile-just-iphone-incl-iem6-review)) with all its goodies (text reflowing at every zoom level; easier zooming etc.), think twice before upgrading. Nevertheless, if you install it on the same Windows Mobile device, the two versions will happily co-exist and won’t interfere in each other’s operation. (They’re located in entirely different directories, have different icon links and temporary directories.)


The famous developers (BitStream) of ThunderHawk, which used to be one of the most recommended browsers for Windows Mobile, particularly in the pre-WM2003SE days when it was pretty hard to switch the screen orientation to landscape (and no other browsers supporting rendering pages in this mode), now, at last, has a successor: BOLT.

While I did install it on my BlackBerry 8800 (my favourite Web browsing mobile device for quick lookups – for longer sessions, I prefer my iPhone 3G) when the first, closed beta arrived about a month ago, I found it best not to publish anything on it because, frankly, I found the scrolling speed plain slow compared to the pretty mature and very fast Opera Mini 4.2 on the same device and, now that I have a lot of work, I simply don’t want to publish reviews of half-baked products because these reviews get outdated very fast as, in general, software developers quickly fix the problems. (Note that it’s because of this that I haven’t really elaborated on the first, runnable Mozilla / Fennec build(s) for Windows Mobile either – I’ll wait until a version is released which is at least half as usable and stable as current Opera Mobile versions.)

I’ve thoroughly tested the new version announced and released at MWC and found it very good on all kinds of devices. I’ve tested it on the following ones:

QVGA – 320*240 – Landscape BlackBerry 8800,
VGA – 640 * 480 – HP iPAQ 210 with Jbed 3.1 (tested in both screen orientations) (Windows Mobile),
QVGA – 240*320 – Nokia N95 (Symbian S60).

Thanks for the excellent font set of BitStream, all the three

Some screenshots:

(Windows Mobile VGA with XXLarge characters – see Settings / Magnification)

(Nokia N95 with default settings)

Note that it has everything a decent browser should need: page scrolling by 2/4/6/8; on touchscreen-enabled devices without hardware (left / right) softkeys (the HP 210 is one of them), tapping the bottom-most area of the screen brings up the menu; find text in page.

It surely has some (not very annoying) problems; for example, rendering the PPCMag Experts in Portrait mode on a QVGA device – in this case, the N95 – sometimes lead to invisible end of rows. This needs to be continuously – after every single Page downs –corrected, which is definitely a more time-consuming process than under Opera Mini 4.2, which uses a better “fit to screen” algorithm.

Also note that, as the browser is strictly based on the (8-bit) ASCII font set, it cannot render any non-ASCII characters. That is, while it can display all the characters in all Western languages, it fails doing the same with non-Western ones – there will always be some characters missing. This can’t be fixed, unless, as is explained in my dedicated article on internationalization issues (http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blogs/3/web_authors_masters_and_pocket_pc_web_br), the Web administrators explicitly look for the User-Agent of Bolt and convert all the pages returned to ASCII.

Speed-wise, the new browser excelled. It’s definitely worth giving a try.

Finally, it also supports videos and animation. It can even play back YouTube contents by invoking the system-level, native Web browser to download the (into a very low-quality .3gp file – unfortunately, you can’t make the transcoder produce a better-quality file, not even at the expense of higher data usage) transcoded YouTube content and, then, invoke the system-level multimedia player to play it back. On the BlackBerry 8800 (running OS 4.5), where I tested this, I needed to manually invoke the latter – doing the same from Browser didn’t work. That is, you’ll need to save the transcoded .3gp file into the file system, start Media manually and search for the just-saved clip.


The long-awaited Mozilla/Firefox port, after having been only available for the Linux-based Nokia Internet Tablets, has arrived to Windows Mobile (dedicated blog post HERE (http://dougt.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/milestone-1-fennec-for-windows-mobile/)).

No, it’s still not worth getting it if all you want is a decent, capable browser – it’s really slow and full of bugs. (Remember the first versions of Minimo? It’s THAT bad. Note that I’m not stating the private, unofficial Minimo has anything to do with the officially backed-up Fennec – except for the same initial codebase –, just the fact that Fennec, as of the current version, ins plain useless for real-world usage.) For the time being, go for Opera Mobile, Mini, Skyfire or Bolt, depending on your needs.


After my last review of Iris (http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blog/9/full-roundup-browsing-web-windows-mobile-just-iphone-incl-iem6-review), several new versions have been released. They are stated to be much faster / more stable. However, the GUI inconsistencies I’ve pointed out in the above review are still here (also see the comments for example HERE (http://msmobiles.com/f/viewtopic.php?t=22708)); that is, currently, I still don’t recommend this version unlike you absolutely don’t want to use the alternative ones.

Also read THIS (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=484417) for more info.


A new version, 0.9, was released a week ago. Compared to the version reviewed in my last generic roundup (http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blog/9/full-roundup-browsing-web-windows-mobile-just-iphone-incl-iem6-review), the list of improvements include (see THIS (http://www.skyfire.com/wordpress/2009/02/12/beta-09-released-%e2%80%93-skyfire-gets-social/) for more info) Facebook, Twitter, RSS support, improved text reflowing (not that I would have found the previous versions bad in this respect) and (at last) compatibility with WVGA (800*480) and WQVGA (400*240) screens.

Adobe news: Flash Lite 3.1 for developers; full Flash 10 promised

If you know my dedicated article ("TUTORIAL: everything you need to know about Flash Lite 3 and playing back Flash web videos (http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blog/9/tutorial-everything-you-need-know-about-flash-lite-3-and-playing-back-flash-web-videos)"), you know that, so far, there haven’t been an official version of Flash Lite 3.1 available to download.

In the meantime, Adobe has made the developer version available (more info (http://news.softpedia.com/news/New-Flash-Player-for-Windows-Mobile-104624.shtml)). No, do not rush to download it unless you’re a developer – it will NOT work in your flash (lite) plugin-capable browser like the latest Omnia build or Internet Explorer. Yes, I’ve tested this. Hope the end user plug-in version is soon released.

Adobe has also announced they will release full (!!) Flash support for Symbian S60, Windows Mobile and Android this year. This is certainly very good news for everyone but iPhone folks – after all, Symbian and Android have never had any “full” Flash support and the latest Windows Mobile one is a highly outdated and slow version 7.

02-22-2009, 10:55 AM
UPDATE (22/02/2009 10:34AM CET): : let me also present you a shot of the Opera booth at ShowStoppers. I hope you recognize the webpage shown ;-)

http://www.winmobiletech.com/022009MWC/TH/opera.JPG (http://www.winmobiletech.com/022009MWC/opera.JPG)