File Under: Browsers

Mozilla Takes on Windows 8 With ‘Firefox Metro Preview’

Mozilla looks to claim a square on the Windows 8 start screen with Firefox Metro. Image: Screenshot/Scott Gilbertson.

Mozilla has released a preview version of Firefox built for Windows 8′s touch-friendly interface. Despite Microsoft recently disavowing the term Metro, Mozilla is calling its hybrid version of Firefox, “Firefox Metro Preview.”

You can grab a copy of the new preview release from Mozilla’s Nightly downloads page (.exe link). Run the installer and you’ll have a traditional desktop app named Nightly. Open that up and make Nightly your default browser. Once you do you’ll be able to open the Windows Store version of Firefox from the Windows 8 start screen.

Bear in mind that this is a very experimental release — it’s a nightly build, after all. In my testing (using a Samsung Series 7 tablet) this early form of Firefox Metro proved too rough around the edges to use for much more than exploring the new Metro interface.

The preview does however manage to offer a glimpse of what’s in store for anyone planning to pick up a Windows 8 tablet. Unlike Chrome for Windows 8, which more or less looks just like the desktop version of Chrome, Mozilla has embraced the Windows 8 design aesthetic. The Firefox Metro bookmarks page features a blocky, candy-colored list of links reminiscent of the Windows 8 start page. Other UI touches like the rounded corners and primary colored elements are all part of the Australis interface, which Firefox Product Manager Asa Dotzler calls “streamlined, modern, and beautiful.”

Firefox Metro’s Windows 8-style bookmarks list. Image: Screenshot/Scott Gilbertson.

The default user interface in Firefox Metro has almost no chrome. There’s a URL bar along the top of the window which includes a plus button for new tabs, but otherwise the interface elements are hidden away. Swipe up from the bottom and you’ll find a toolbar for adding bookmarks, pinning sites to the Windows 8 start screen or viewing recent downloads. Swipe down from the top of the screen and you’ll reveal the tab bar. (There’s also an option to always show the tab bar.) Tap the screen and both will disappear offering a fullscreen browsing mode well suited to tablets.

Firefox Metro tab bar. Image: Screenshot/Scott Gilbertson.

The integration with Windows 8 goes beyond just the visual elements with support for Metro’s touch and swipe gestures. Firefox Metro also uses the Windows 8 “charm bar” — the universal sidebar where you’ll find Firefox’s preferences, privacy settings, permissions and other administrative tools. There are quite a few tablet-specific settings as well like an option to control how text formatting is handled on zoom.

Familiar features from Firefox on the desktop have been carried over, including Firefox Sync and support for the Do Not Track privacy header. Unfortunately I couldn’t get Sync to work. Like I said earlier, this release is rough around the edges.

The rough nature of this preview release didn’t stop our friends at Ars Technica from putting Firefox Metro Preview through some benchmarks; check out Jon Brodkin’s post for details on how this nightly build stands up against the other two Metro-ready browsers, IE 10 and Chrome.

While there’s still much to be done before Firefox Metro is ready for prime time — Mozilla currently hopes to ship a final version when Firefox 18 arrives at the beginning of 2013 — this build gives curious users a look at what to expect. But at the moment both IE 10 and Chrome are stabler, more usable browsers for Metro. And keep in mind that while Firefox Metro will work on x86 tablets, nothing has changed with regard to third-party web browsers on Windows RT — tablets based using Win RT and Arm processors will still exist in an IE-only world.