Mozilla yesterday launched a beta version of its touch-enabled Firefox browser for Windows 8 and 8.1, fulfilling a promise to put the application on the road to a final release next month.
Saddled with the name "Firefox for Windows 8 Touch," the browser shipped late Thursday as part of Firefox 28 Beta, one of the three build channels Mozilla maintains. The others, Aurora and Release, are rougher pre-beta and more polished final versions, respectively.
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According to Mozilla's six-week schedule, Firefox 28 will ship in Release form on March 18. There's no guarantee that the new touch-enabled browser will be part of that promotion, however.
Earlier this year, Mozilla announced that it had again delayed Firefox for Windows 8 and 8.1's "Metro" user interface (UI). That UI, one of two in Microsoft's latest OS, relies on colorful tiles, mobile-style apps and touch as the preferred input method. The other UI in Windows 8's two-headed beast is the traditional desktop, where keyboard and mouse are required.
Mozilla started work on a Metro edition of Firefox in March 2012. It shipped a preview in October 2012, several weeks before Microsoft launched Windows 8. At that time, Mozilla's schedule said the Firefox app might appear as early as January 2013. That ambitious timetable was revised several times; last September, Mozilla added the Metro-UI browser to Firefox's Aurora channel, pegging the release to late January 2014, which too was shelved.
If Mozilla makes the March 18 release, it will have spent two years crafting the browser, which will have shipped 17 months after the retail debut of Windows 8 and 5 months after the appearance of Windows 8.1.
Although Mozilla considered naming the Metro browser as "Firefox Touch," that was discarded, perhaps because some developers thought it would confuse users of the Android edition, which also relies on touch and gestures.
Because of a dispensation from Microsoft, browser makers like Mozilla can craft a Metro-ized browser and package it with their traditional desktop application; there's no need for Mozilla, Google and others to distribute their Metro browsers through the Windows Store, Microsoft's app store answer to Google Play and Apple's App Store.
That led to some corner cutting by Google, which first previewed Chrome for Metro in June 2012. The app, however, flouted Microsoft's Metro design guidelines. The most recent version of Metro Chrome, which shipped three weeks ago, went even further, turning the app into a pseudo-Chrome OS subversion of the entire Metro mode, with the ability to open multiple browser windows; run Chrome apps such as Any.DO and Pocket; and manage a taskbar that's automatically populated with icons for YouTube, Gmail and other Google services.