Mozilla Developing Metro-Version Of Firefox For Windows 8

The Mozilla Foundation is working on a touch-screen version of its Firefox open-source Web browser that will support the "Metro-style" user interface in Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

A Mozilla posting of its 2012 road map for Firefox said Mozilla plans to deliver a proof-of-concept of Firefox for Windows 8 Metro sometime in the second quarter, and alpha and beta versions of the browser sometime in the second half of the year.

Now under development, Windows 8 is being designed to run on desktop PCs and tablet computers -- the latter including devices based on ARM processors. Microsoft released a developer's preview version of the product in September and is scheduled to debut a consumer preview release on Feb. 29 at an event at the Mobile World Congress 2012 in Barcelona.

Microsoft is working on Internet Explorer 10, the next release of its own Web browser, which will support both Metro and "classic" Windows interfaces. Internet Explorer and Firefox have been battling for market share in the competitive Web browser market in recent years.

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Mozilla said the proof-of-concept software, which it emphasized would not be an alpha or beta release, "should demonstrate the feasibility of Firefox in Windows 8 Metro." The software organization said the exact timing of the release would hinge on when Microsoft releases the Windows 8 consumer preview and developer documentation.

In the second half of 2012, the alpha release will "prove the installation path and basic browsing features" while the beta "will be feature complete for a 1.0-capability product."

On a Windows 8 wiki, Mozilla said "the feature goal is a new Gecko-based browser built for and integrated with the Metro environment." (Gecko is the open source layout engine used in many applications developed by Mozilla.) Given that Metro is an entirely new environment, Firefox will require a new front end and new system integration points, according to the posting.

Firefox on Metro will be full screen, focused on touch interactions and will be connected to the rest of the Metro environment through Windows 8 contracts, Mozilla said. The browser will feature an Appbar with such common navigation controls as back and reload, the Awesomebar and a number of tabs.

But the post also acknowledges that the level of difficulty of developing Firefox for the Metro interface will depend to some degree on Microsoft -- the same problem many third-party application developers will face.

"In general, browser vendors would prefer access to the system similar to that of Internet Explorer 10," the Mozilla post said. "From all outward appearances IE is currently able to bypass security restrictions of the Metro sandbox by running as a medium integrity process, effectively running as a standard Windows desktop application with additional extensions, which allow it to latch into the Metro interface.

"Vendors feel changes should be made to the current restrictions which will facilitate the ability of third parties to compete with Microsoft's products in this new environment."