Mozilla's Windows 8 Firefox Plans Include Metro Browser

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2012-02-13 Print this article Print

Mozilla's plans for Firefox on Windows 8 include both a classic and Metro version, the better to port the browser onto a variety of devices running the operating system.

Mozilla intends to develop a version of Firefox for Windows 8.

That should come as no surprise to anyone, considering how Windows 8 will soon appear on a sizable number of traditional PCs and tablets. However, Mozilla€™s approach to porting Firefox onto the upcoming operating system neatly summarizes the potential issues facing other companies that wish to turn Windows 8 into a platform for their products. In order to cover the full range of Windows 8 devices effectively, it must develop Firefox for two application environments: €œclassic€ Windows and €œMetro.€

The classic version €œis very similar to the Windows 7 environment at this time,€ according to Mozilla€™s official page on Windows 8 browser development, and thus €œrequires a simple evolution of the current Firefox Windows product.€

However, Metro is an altogether different beast. The design aesthetic, currently found on Windows Phone and the latest Xbox dashboard, has profound influence on Windows 8: in place of the €œtraditional€ desktop that defined previous editions of Windows, the newest operating system will open with a Metro start screen of colorful, touchable tiles linked to applications. In theory, this will help port Windows 8 onto tablets and other touch-happy form factors; users will have the ability to download Metro apps to their machine via an online storefront. 

That bifurcation between Metro tiles and the €œclassic€ interface (the latter accessible through a single click) demands that third-party developers approach their Windows 8 creations in a more granular fashion. 

Mozilla added that any version of Firefox for Metro will require the ability to €œsnap€ to either full-screen, 1/6th screen or 5/6th screen mode; to enter a suspended state when not in view; and focus on touch interaction. €œWe may want to offer a live tile with user-centric data like friends presence or other Firefox Home information updates,€ explained a note. €œIdeally we€™d be able to create secondary titles for Web-based apps hosted in Firefox€™s runtime.€

Microsoft recently unveiled a host of details about Windows on ARM (for which it uses the acronym €œWOA€), designed to offer users a lightweight experience more reminiscent of an iPad than a desktop. It will help drive the company€™s tablet efforts once Windows 8 actually hits the market sometime in the latter half of 2012.

€œA WOA PC will feel like a consumer electronics device in terms of how it is used and managed,€ Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft€™s Windows and Windows Live division, wrote in a Feb. 9 posting on the corporate Building Windows 8 blog.

But tablet dominance also hinges on a healthy app ecosystem. Microsoft is apparently working on that, as well: Mobile broadband-class drivers, printer-class drivers, GPS, sensors (accelerometer, rotation, gyro, compass, magnetometer) and Bluetooth are all capabilities available to developers creating Metro-style apps for Windows on ARM.

If developers rush to the WOA platform in large numbers, it could result in an app ecosystem capable of challenging Apple€™s App Store and Google€™s Android Marketplace. In turn, combined with a Metro-specific version of Office and powerful hardware, that could make Windows 8 a true challenger. But a lot still depends on the ability of Microsoft (and its hardware partners) to actually execute its plans in the real world.  

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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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