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Google released a third-party Metro browser a year ago, but Mozilla hasn't been quite as quick

One of the occasional criticisms of Windows 8 has been the notable absence of support for the popular Firefox browser within Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) blocky pastel Modern UI, better known as "Metro".  After nearly two years it's starting to seem like Mozilla might never finish its Metro browser -- but as Duke Nukem Forever taught us, never say never.
 
I. Chrome OS -- On Time, if a Bit Ho-Hum
 
Windows 8 shipped with Internet Explorer 10 as the default browser when it launched in Nov. 2012.  Windows 8.1 -- a free upgrade to Windows 8 -- aired last month with a new Microsoft Metro-enable browser version, Internet Explorer 11 (IE 11).

Chrome Metro Browser
Chrome in Metro Mode (Nov. 2012) [Image Source: Tablet-News]

After initially quibbling with browsermakers over permissions and instituting what Google Inc. (GOOG) (maker of Chrome) and The Mozilla Foundation (maker of Firefox) claimed amounted to a third party browser ban, Microsoft relented announcing support for "Metro style enabled desktop browsers".
 
Google offered up a metro-enabled Chrome browser alongside Windows 8 last November.  By setting Chrome as your default browser and enabling it to launch in "Metro mode" (versus "Desktop mode") you gained access to Modern/Metro UI niceties, including snap side-by-side browsing, full screen browsing, close gestures, and a charms menu, which included a share option.  Chrome might not have received a drastic metro redesign in terms of look, but it was out there at least.
 
II. Firefox -- Super Late
 
The same could not be said for Firefox.  In development since the Microsoft March 2012 style announcement, Mozilla Firefox first started to receive Metro-geared pre-beta test builds in October 2012 under the Firefox 18a1 ("Elm") non-standard branch of the nightly build tree.  The builds looked nice, but were relatively bug laden.
 
In February, Metro Firefox -- still in pre-beta -- moved from "Elm" to the standard nightly build test tree (pre-beta).  This version ran significantly smoother although it still lacked Windows RT support.

Firefox Metro Mode
Firefox in pre-beta Metro Mode from early 2013 [Image Source: Neowin]

Continuing its path to broader testing, the Metro/Modern build hit the Aurora (late alpha) test channel on Sept. 21 -- a few days off the previously stated Sept. 16 launch target.  Mozilla wrote:

Because this new version of Firefox uses the same powerful Gecko rendering engine as in Firefox desktop, there’s also support for WebGL for compelling 3D graphics and asm.js which supercharges JavaScript in the browser, allowing developers to port high performance C++ games to the Web. Hardware accelerated full HTML5 video is also supported, including open video formats like WebM and proprietary formats such as H.264.

At that meeting, the August target for the beta remained at Oct. 28, but the target for the release (which will be part of Firefox 27 for Windows 8/8.1) was set to Jan. 21.  Oct. 28th came and went with no Metro Firefox beta.  Today that beta arrived -- over a month late.  As a result of the slip, the launch date slid even further to Feb. 4.  At that point Metro Firefox will have been in development for just about two years.

Firefox Metro start screen
Firefox 27 w/ Metro Mode beta, Start Screen [Image Source: Mozilla]

But on the plus side, Mozilla did show of a pretty new start screen filled with helpful hints about the Metro UI mouse/touch controls.
 
Even this late in the development cycle Mozilla continues to push major revisions to make its browser more Metro-rific.  It showed off a pretty new start screen filled with helpful hints about the Metro UI mouse/touch controls.  We suppose the saying "better late then never" applies here; and to Mozilla's credit it did seem to go the extra mile when it came to coming up with a slick new look for Metro, where as Chrome's Metro UI looked more like an afterthought.
 
III. 2014 -- The Year of the Metro Browser
 
Metro hasn't been Mozilla's only development struggle of late; the browser maker has been trying to get 64-bit support added for the last couple years as well.  It scrapped support in late 2011 only to add it back to the Nightly builds late last year.
 
Mozilla has perhaps been drained by its effort to put out its own Linux variant (Firefox OS), which is starting to compete with Google's Android OS in the budget smartphone space.  Mozilla lacks the monetary resources of Google, but it remains relatively ambitious if a bit bad at meeting deadlines.
 
As for Google's recent builds, it's still not looking to conform to the typical Metro look.  Instead, it's leveraging Microsoft's permissions to bake Chrome OS into Windows 8 when you run your browser in Metro mode.  This Inception-esque scenario can be viewed perhaps as the VMWare equivalent of the Metro/Chrome OS world.
 
As for Microsoft, its just launched IE 11 build is earning glowing reviews for speed (which vies with Chrome for the title of fastest browser) and compatibility.  However, it lacks the cloud-synchronization and extendibility (including ad-blocking) that Chrome offers (and the ability to serve as a Chrome OS app launcher).

Chrome OS in Metro
Chrome OS inside Chrome running in Metro Mode [Image Source: PC World]

Firefox will join this competitive mix feature perhaps the nicest looking theme (if you like Metro), and at least some of the extendibility of Chrome (just no Chrome OS apps).  The current builds still have enough bugs and unsupported features from recent releases that it's impossible to tell how fast Firefox will be when it launches.  But regardless, the good news is 2014 looks to be the year when the browser market for Windows 8 finally gets competitive.

Source: Mozilla Meeting Notes





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