Mozilla schedules Metro Firefox for December release

Mozilla schedules Metro Firefox for December release

Summary: After more than a year and a half of development, Mozilla has reached the home stretch in its plan to release a version of Firefox that's compatible with both personalities of Windows 8: the plugin-free, touch-friendly Metro side and the traditional desktop.

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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."

Topics: Browser, Microsoft, Windows 8

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30 comments
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  • No RT though

    IIRC, on Windows RT the only browser permitted will be IE.

    Ed, what exactly is the reason for this?
    larry@...
    • Larry,

      Larry, Windows RT runs on ARM processors, like the ones you find in your mobile phone. Firefox (and other 'desktop' programs) are written to run on the x86/64 platform, which is the standard PC processor. So a 'desktop' program like Firefox will not run on a mobile processor (Win RT)
      _rafalk
      • Android runs on ARM processors (and so does GNU/Linux)

        Mozilla has had Firefox for Android available for some time no. Here's a description:

        http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/mobile/features/

        And here's the complete Android device list, including both smartphones and tablets, that Firefox for Android supports:

        http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/mobile/platforms/

        One can download and install Firefox for Android from Google Play.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Android on ARM, not Windows on ARM

          The version of Firefox for Android will not run on Windows on ARM, just like the Mac OS version (on an Intel processor) will not run on Windows on Intel.

          A version for Windows RT could be made, but it doesn't exist yet.
          pbb72
          • Duh, tell _rafalk

            who stated that Firefox won't run on ARM. My example was Firefox for Android as it runs on ARM.

            Context, please.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Details are in my linked posts

      But basically, as @_rafalk notes, this class of application involves a lot of x86 code that has to be compiled and allowed to run in privileged space. There is no option to do that in Windows RT.
      Ed Bott
      • Re: allowed to run in privileged space

        Firefox runs as an ordinary unprivileged user app on Linux; why does it need special privileges under Windows?
        ldo17
        • I don't know

          Ask Mozilla.
          Michael Alan Goff
          • Re: I don't know Ask Mozilla.

            Given that Windows is the only OS with this problem, I'd say we have to ask Microsoft.
            ldo17
          • What I mean

            is that Chrome is able to make a non privileged browser (don't know if that would help here), but Mozilla isn't.
            Michael Alan Goff
      • Not true

        Firefox does not require any x86 code to run. It is happy to run whatever code the native platform supports and what it is compiled on.

        Thing is, WinRT simply does not allow code generation and execution a technique that is used today to support the fast JavaScript engines all those browsers require.

        Microsoft works around this by bundling "the desktop" (essentially most of win32 hat permits such techniques by applications) in Windows RT, for their private use. Microsoft too are unable to write IE purely in WinRT, and Office for that same reason.

        Nothing to do with x86 code. Because that can't be done in the WinRT running on x86 too.
        danbi
        • Firefox

          is indeed denied access to win32 on WinRT. This is of course no different from what Apple is doing on IOS, where each and every browser needs to use the exact same engine Safari is using. That is probably the reason why there isn't a Firefox for IOS, at the end of the day, it would be relegated to a different UI running atop the same engine Safari is using.
          sjaak327
          • Yes this is exactly right

            It is true that Firefox can't run as an RT app, because it would have to be recoded entirely to WinRT, which might not be advanced enough to support the XUL rendering engine, or their Javascript compilation engines, even with the ton of work involved.

            But Microsoft's graciously allowed the alternate browser guys a spot in PC metro by letting them out of the API restrictions most developers have to live with.

            In IOS, you're allowed to make alternate browsers, but only if you use Safari's rendering engine, and you don't get access to the Nitro engine.

            So Windows Modern comes in somewhere between Android and IOS, in terms of how locked down it is, and depending on the microprocessor architecture.
            Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • and yet, there are other browsers on iOS

            for instance, http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser/mobile/ios.html
            larry@...
          • You keep repeating this

            A new UI and a few tweaks doesn't make it any less Safari's everything else.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • And ALL of them

            need to use the safari rendering engine. ALL of them are basically a UI on top of Safari's rendering engine.
            sjaak327
          • They are not "Browsers" on iOS and Android

            They are skins for the default browser.
            n0mad3
          • Wrong on Android

            There are actual other browsers. Firefox uses the mobile Gecko, Opera uses whatever it is that Opera uses, and so forth. They're allowed to use their own rendering engines.
            Michael Alan Goff
      • And yet, IE does it

        I haven't read your linked posts yet, but this reason doesn't wash with me. For one thing, if IE can do it then it can be done. And I can't imagine a reason a web browser would need to run privileged, unless it's necessarily providing web services or rendering to other apps. If the browser itself is just an app there's nothing magical about it
        larry@...
        • To my knowledge

          IE on Windows RT isn't a full WinRT program, it has some of the win32 libraries.
          Michael Alan Goff