File Under: Browsers

Firefox to Get a ‘Metro’ Makeover for Windows 8

Mozilla is breaking ground on a new effort to update the Firefox web browser for Microsoft’s coming Windows 8.

Firefox for Windows 8 was announced earlier this year and will support both the traditional desktop Windows environment and the new Metro interface designed for tablets and other touchscreen devices.

While Apple’s App Store rules don’t allow Firefox to run on iOS devices, Mozilla has already created a tablet-friendly version of Firefox for Android and is now hoping to do the same for Windows 8.

According to the team already at work on Firefox for Windows 8, Firefox will take a hybrid approach to Windows 8′s dual desktop and Metro modes. The desktop and Metro options aren’t the only way to develop for Windows 8; there is in fact a third path — “Metro style enabled desktop browsers.” These hybrid apps can be run as desktop applications or as Metro apps. The hybrid approach means that Firefox will work as it always has for those that choose to ignore Metro, but will also fit in with Metro for those that prefer it.

There’s another reason for choosing the hybrid route — Metro style enabled desktop browsers have the ability to run outside of the Metro sandbox. Metro style enabled desktop browsers have access to most of the Win32 API and the entire new WinRT API.

As Mozilla developer Brian Bondy writes in a recent blog post, taking the hybrid approach will give Firefox more power: “We can build a powerful browser which gives an experience equal to that of a classic Desktop browser.”

That doesn’t mean that everything with Firefox 8 for Windows will be smooth sailing though. For example, the current rules for the Metro environment allow for only one browser in Metro mode. That means that if you don’t set Firefox to be the default browser then it can’t be used in Metro mode. Given how few users change the default settings, most may never even realize that Firefox can run in Metro mode.

Bondy also points out that it remains to be seen whether or not Microsoft will let a hybrid Firefox in the coming Windows Store since it won’t technically be a Metro application. Other unknowns include whether or not Firefox for Windows 8 will work with the ARM-based version of Windows 8 or whether that will require another port.

For more details on just what it will take to create Firefox for Windows 8, be sure to read through Bondy’s post.