Mozilla's Windows 8 Firefox Plans Include Metro Browser

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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