If you’re waiting for a touch-friendly alternative to Internet Explorer on Windows 8, you’ve now got some milestones to look forward to.
In the minutes of a Firefox planning meeting last week, Mozilla committed to merging the Metro style interface into its Aurora (pre-beta) channel on September 16, with a Windows Aurora Firefox build publicized as the Metro Preview Release. The beta version is due on October 28, and the final version of Metro Firefox is scheduled to ship with Firefox 26 on December 10.
If it seems like this effort has taken a long time, you’re right.
When Mozilla announced that it had begun development of a Metro-style version of Firefox, it was March 2012. Windows 8 was still in a preview release, eight months away from its formal introduction. Metro was still the official name of the Windows 8 design style.
And back at the start of the project, nearly 18 months ago, Mozilla HQ seemed intent on tamping down expectations. Mozilla’s Brian R. Bondy introduced the development effort, called it “a very large project.” Project Manager Asa Dotzler made it clear that running code was still far in the future: “I do not anticipate that we will get beyond a late stage Beta” before the end of 2012, he predicted.
That prediction was on the money. After showing off a Metro style Firefox prototype in April 2012, it was another 10 months before the Metro code made it into the Nightly channel. At the time, I praised the browser’s coders for embracing the Windows 8 interface, complete with app bar and a tabbed browsing interface that are hidden until you reveal them with a swipe motion. That’s in stark contrast to Google, which has added a Windows 8 mode to current versions of Chrome but simply replicated the desktop user interface.
Mozilla's developers have already done an impressive job of supporting touch on their desktop browser, work that has to be replicated in the Metro version. For the final release, Mozilla’s developers are also building an all new Firefox app bar, which keeps the tab bar at the top but moves the address field, reload button, bookmark star button, and other common controls to the app bar on the bottom.
When the new Firefox is released, it will be the last of the three major Windows browsers to support the unique split-personality mode that’s permitted only for browsers. Internet Explorer 10 was the first example of this unique hybrid Windows 8 app that offers two views of the same browser engine: an immersive, plugin-free app (Metro style) and a traditional desktop program that supports Flash and other third-party plugins.
Around the time of the launch of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft published a white paper, “Developing a Metro style enabled desktop browser,” with formal guidelines for developers and this definition. Around the release of Windows 8, Microsoft updated that document to remove the banned "Metro" term. The current release of the developer guidelines includes guidance for the Windows 8.1 Preview and is titled "Developing a new experience enabled Desktop Browser."