Skyfire, a Mountain View, Calif., start-up that competes directly with Opera Mobile browser, announced Wednesday the opening of its public beta for Windows Mobile phones. This is good news if you’ve been waiting months to join Skyfire’s impacted private beta program. In addition to going public, Skyfire has upgraded from version 0.6 to version 0.8, a move that brings significant performance improvements and a more fleshed-out start screen design. On the start screen, Skyfire has shifted from a spindly design of bare text links to a fleshed-out look that includes shaded boxes and icons. The headline content–world, business, sports, elections, and a weather widget–is all fed by Yahoo, though it’s not an exclusive partnership.
Vastly improved streaming video quality is another feature that gives Skyfire an extra dose of credibility. Skyfire has introduced SuperBar in version 0.8, a field that combines the address bar and search into one. SuperBar helpfully offers suggestions to complete your query as you type, but unlike Opera Mobile 9.5 beta (which has separate search and URL fields), Skyfire doesn’t remember your URL history. Nevertheless, it’s one new feature that helps elevate Skyfire from a scrawny mobile browser with potential to one that is a viable browser alternative. Skyfire beta is available for those of you in the private beta program through a program update; new users can get it for Windows Mobile phones by pointing the mobile browser to skyfire.com.