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Ex-Mozilla engineer blames Microsoft's rules for Metro Firefox's death

Gregg Keizer | March 24, 2014
A former Mozilla engineer who worked on the "Metro" version of Firefox says that poor adoption of Windows 8's radical user interface wasn't behind the decision to shelve the browser.

Metro-style desktop browsers were allowed to run outside the normal Metro sandbox and access most classic Windows APIs (application programming interface), as well as the new WinRT API, the backbone of the Metro side of Windows 8 and 8.1 app development.

The category got an important pass from Microsoft: A Metro enabled desktop browser did not have to be distributed through the Windows Store, but could be packaged with its companion for the "Classic" desktop. The caveat, as Bondy noted, was that only the default browser could run in the Metro UI.

Like Windows 7, Windows 8 and 8.1 assign Internet Explorer (IE) as the default browser.

Even so, Mozilla kept to its plan to create a Metro version of Firefox. Two years ago, Bondy said it was "extremely important" to deliver the browser on Metro because he, Mozilla and many others believed that Windows 8, with Microsoft's OS leadership position, would be a success.

Mozilla thought even less of Microsoft's rules about browsers on Windows RT, the touch-only sibling to Windows 8. In May 2012, Mozilla accused its bigger browser rival of anticompetitive behavior by barring third-party browsers from Windows RT, which was designed to run on ARM processor-powered tablets.

In the end, Microsoft did Mozilla a favor. By preventing Mozilla from creating Firefox for Windows RT, Microsoft likely kept Mozilla from going down another dead end, as Windows RT has struggled for any kind of uptake, with most OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) quickly deciding not to support the OS.

Yesterday, Bondy encouraged Microsoft to modify its Metro browser rules. "It would be great if Microsoft could fix these issues around default status. More competition leads to better software, and having good software on your platform is important. Every Windows Modern UI user loses when there's only one Modern UI browser choice," Bondy said.

Microsoft is unlikely to change its mind. Although it has retreated from some of Windows 8's UI choices, first with last year's Windows 8.1 and next month, with the expected Windows 8.1 Update, it has said nothing about abandoning Metro's default browser requirement.


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