Firefox “Metro” Version for Windows 8 now Available for Preview

Firefox “Metro” Version for Windows 8 now Available for Preview

By | October 8th, 2012
2 Comments on Firefox “Metro” Version for Windows 8 now Available for Preview

A preview version of Firefox with a Metro interface is now available.


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Since the “Metro” moniker was dropped, referring to the new visual style that comes with Windows 8 has become a bit confusing. To avoid any confusion, here we mean that a Firefox version that runs in the new Metro mode is now available. Firefox already runs on Windows 8 in desktop mode.

Mozilla has been working on a version of Firefox for Metro for quite a while now, and it has been always been possible to build a Metro version of Firefox since the project started. However, till now building a Metro version of Firefox required you to compile it from source. And now you can download a special edition of Firefox, and get access to Metro version directly.

This is certainly a preview version of Firefox, and a very early one at that. It is a nightly (elm branch) build of Firefox, so expect constant—well nightly—updates to the browser, crashes, broken functionality or worse, possible data loss. Yes, this build is not for the faint hearted, but for those who want to check out Firefox on a new platform, it hasn’t been easier than this before.

Google released a Metro version of Chrome in the developer channel quite a while back, and while Opera doesn’t have a Metro enabled build just yet, recent releases have improved support for touch operation of the browser in desktop mode. With Firefox now available in a Metro version, there is a choice of three browsers, Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Due to restrictions imposed by Windows 8 however, you will only be able to use one browser at a time in Metro mode. In Windows 8, only one browser will be allowed to run in Metro mode, and that is the browser you set as default. If your default browser is Internet Explorer, you will be able to use only Internet Explorer in Metro mode, all other browsers will open in “classic desktop” mode even if launched from Metro. This is rather annoying limitation since it is quite possible that some people will prefer, say Chrome as the default desktop browser, while Firefox or IE in Metro mode. As such, if you do want to try out this preview, you will need to make Firefox the default browser.

While Mozilla’s preview is still very very early and highly incomplete, it does feature a completely different UI that is optimized for touch. Mozilla is in the process of having one consistent UI style across all platforms, so that the browser is immediately recognizable. You can see this if you compare the tablet and mobile version for Android that are already available, the UIs are quite different, but still feel like the same product. A visual overhaul is coming for the desktop version of Firefox as well, although for now it seems Mozilla will focus on having a browser that works on Windows 8 Metro, with release of Windows 8 just around the corner.

Firefox Metro UI

A number of features in Firefox Metro just don’t work, plug-ins are missing, add-ons are missing, in fact you cant even scroll using the mouse, you have to use touch or the keyboard. However considering that this isn’t even an alpha release, what does work is quite impressive. According to Brian Bondy, one of the developers behind the effort to bring Firefox to Metro, the following are the features that already work on Firefox for Metro:

  • Metro browser registration capable installer
  • Zip builds which do registration upon setting default browser from within Firefox
  • Updates enabled
  • New navigation URL bar inspired by the australis theme
  • New tab bar with tab previews (double swipe from the top edge or bottom edge to expose the tab previews)
  • Alternate tab bar with always visible tabs
  • Auto complete screen with tile suggestions as you type
  • New touch optimized start screen with tiles
  • Windows 8 App bar with common functionality
  • Changes to the default theme to fit into Metro
  • Various new touch capabilities
  • Various keyboard shortcuts
  • On screen keyboard handling
  • Gesture support
  • In-page text selection
  • Crash reporting
  • Telemetry support
  • Context sensitive default handling, if in Metro stay in Metro for link clicks
  • Sync support with browser through remote Firefox sync (Set it up through settings)
  • Support for the share data contract to share the current page with another Metro application
  • Support for the search contract to search inside Firefox whether or not Firefox is already open
  • Support for the settings contract accessible via the settings charm
  • Support for snap and filled states, to use Firefox and another Metro application at the same time
  • Metro open and save file picker support
  • Support for secondary tiles (pinned websites to your start screen)
  • View current page on desktop functionality
  • Support for pdfjs: In content PDF viewer built in JavaScript
  • Spell checking enabled

Any missing features you notice right now will come in time, and you can see as they are added if you keep Firefox updated.

An interesting feature of this build of Firefox that just has to be mentioned is that it is actually possible to run the Metro version of Firefox without Metro. In fact you need not even be running Windows 8, you can test out the Metro UI build of Firefox on Windows Vista or 7—XP is probably not supported since it isn’t supported by Visual Studio 11 which is what is used to compile these versions of Firefox—and it will run in a window instead of running full screen. Although it’s neither intended nor tested for this purpose, you might even be able to build this branch for Linux or Mac OSX, and have Firefox Metro running there!

Firefox Metro running on Windows 7

Firefox Metro running on Windows 7

Running Firefox Metro without Metro is as simple as using a command line argument. Just use the -metrodesktop command line parameter, and you will be faced with the Firefox Metro UI running in a standard desktop window. Of course some of the Windows 8 integration features will not be available, such as the charms bar / social integration etc. Some more information on Firefox Metro without Metro is available here.

All the information you could possibly need about Firefox on Windows 8 can be found on the Mozilla Wiki and Brian’s blog is an interesting read if you want to see how this feature progressed since it started. You can download Firefox itself from the elm night branch page.

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Kshitij Sobti
Inserted into Kshitij's motivation banks is a particularly strong desire for justice. It's sad then, that he wastes his skills gaming, watching TV, and for the mundane task of writing prose. He tweets