File Under: Browsers

Firefox for Windows 8 Beginning to Take Shape

A mockup of Firefox in the Metro start screen (image: Mozilla)

Mozilla is making progress in its effort to bring Firefox to Windows 8′s new Metro environment. 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.

Mozilla’s Brian Bondy, a member of the team tasked with bringing Firefox to Metro, reports that the browser is up and running. “You can navigate the web, create tabs, bookmark pages, build history, retain cache, adjust preferences, and more,” writes Bondy in a blog post reporting Mozilla’s Metro progress.

There’s no packaged download of Firefox for Windows 8 yet, but you can follow the progress via the team’s Mercurial repository.

At the moment Firefox on Metro looks and feels like its Android cousin since both share a common starting point. However, Firefox for Windows 8 already supports a few Metro-specific enhancements, like the Metro “snap” feature, which allows you to “snap” another Metro app to Firefox so you can view both side by side.

Bondy also touts Firefox’s integration with Windows 8′s global search feature which allows you to search the web from any screen. Enter a URL and you’ll go to the website; enter anything else and Firefox will search the web using your default search engine. Additional Metro-specific features include a Metro file picker for opening and saving files (unlike a normal sandboxed Metro app, Firefox will have access to any file on your computer).

Mozilla has opted for the middle path through Microsoft’s guidelines for building Windows 8 apps, passing on a pure Metro app and instead making the browser a “Metro style enabled desktop browser.” That means that Firefox for Windows 8 is a hybrid app that can be run as a normal desktop application or as a Metro app.

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. Unfortunately the hybrid approach also means that Firefox can’t run in Metro mode unless the user has set it to be the default browser.

Microsoft’s rules for the Metro environment allow for only one browser in Metro mode. Given how few users change the default settings, most may never even realize that Firefox can run in Metro mode. Mozilla’s long-term dilemma isn’t just how to integrate the Firefox experience into the very new and different Metro environment, but also how to get users to switch their default browser to Firefox.