Firefox for Windows 8

Firefox on Windows 8

Mozilla has been working on a version of Firefox specifically targeted at the tile-based "Modern" user interface of Windows 8. It’s still in the early stages of development and Mozilla hasn’t announced when there will be an official release, but here’s what we know so far.

Firefox on Windows 8
Nightly news

Currently, Firefox on Modern is only available in the alpha version of Firefox, called Nightly. Mozilla releases updates to this browser on a frequent (i.e. “nightly”) schedule.

Firefox on Windows 8
Bit of a puzzler

There are 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Nightly. But it’s the 32-bit one you should download. Then, you need to install it on a 64-bit version of Windows 8. That may sound odd, but it's true. For now, at least, Firefox on Modern is meant for 64-bit versions of Windows 8. To download Nightly 32-bit, look for the installer with "win32.installer.exe" in its filename.

Firefox on Windows 8
Desktop and Modern

Upon installation, a Nightly tile will be set in the Start menu. And a Nightly shortcut will be placed in the Quick Launch toolbar and desktop of the Desktop Mode of Windows 8. This is because two separate versions of Nightly have been installed -- one that runs in Desktop Mode and the other in Modern.

Firefox on Windows 8
Make Firefox your default

But before you can launch Firefox on Modern, you’ll need to run the Desktop version of Nightly and set it as your default web browser. Also make sure it’s the go-to application for loading HTML and accessing the FTP, HTTP and HTTPS protocols. This is because Microsoft made Windows 8 so that only one browser can be used under the Modern UI. After these are set, you can then go to the Start menu and click the Nightly tile to launch Firefox on Modern.

Firefox on Windows 8
Looks like Firefox for Android

Firefox on Modern looks and works similar to the Android version of the browser. Its UI -- Mozilla calls its theme Australis -- leans toward touchscreen use but it’s still usable with a mouse or touchpad. For now, you cannot customize the look/theme of the browser.

Firefox on Windows 8
Thumbnail UI

Firefox on Modern doesn’t use the familiar tabbed UI. Instead, like the Modern version of Internet Explorer, multiple opened browser windows are represented as thumbnails placed in a panel that pulls down from the top. To access them when you are viewing a newly opened tab, and using a mouse or touchpad, move the cursor to the top of the screen, and right-click -- this panel will then descend.

Firefox on Windows 8
Windows 8 App bar

Summoning the thumbnail panel also will pull up a Windows 8 App bar from the bottom. On it, there’s a link that will take you to a screen listing any files you've downloaded. And you can bookmark the web page that appears in the browser window, or pin it to the Start menu as a tile icon. The magnifying tools were not working properly in the most-current version of Nightly we tested. Another thing on this panel is a basic search for finding text on a web page.

Firefox on Windows 8
View in Desktop

Finally, there’s a "View in Desktop" option in the App bar that is available when you are viewing a web page. Clicking this will simply switch Windows 8 to Desktop Mode where the version of Nightly meant for this environment is launched and which then automatically loads the page you were looking at in Firefox on Modern. Be aware that now you have both web browsers running at the same time on your system.

Firefox on Windows 8
New tab page

Your bookmarked pages are listed in a new tab, along with a history of recently opened pages, and so-called "top sites" that Firefox determines you frequently visit.

Firefox on Windows 8
No way to import bookmarks

The version of Firefox on Modern we tested didn’t have a way to import your bookmarks from other browsers on your Windows 8 system, nor could it automatically access your bookmarks in the Desktop Mode version of Nightly that's also installed on your computer. But Mozilla's Firefox Sync was supported, so the browser can download bookmarks that you already have synced to this cloud service.

Firefox on Windows 8
No add-ons

A significant feature missing is add-ons capability. Mozilla's developers plan to support this in a future release of Firefox on Modern. But don't count on most, if any, of your favorites that work in the desktop versions of Firefox making a direct transition to Firefox on Modern.

Firefox on Windows 8
Turn Flash on

The version of Firefox on Modern we tested had support for Flash switched off by default. To turn it back on, type "about:config" in the URL textbox, and set the "plugin:disable" listing to "false." Of course, be sure you have Flash also installed on your Windows 8 system, before you try to watch your favorite meme videos on YouTube.

Firefox on Windows 8
Optimization turned off

Underneath the hood, the code of Firefox on Modern doesn’t have profile-guided optimization (PGO) turned on. If this were turned on, then the browser should run faster in the Modern UI. For now, this capability is off during the early development phase of the browser.

Firefox on Windows 8
Overall performance

Firefox on Modern ran well on a notebook when used with a mouse and touchpad -- web pages loaded and rendered correctly, and videos played -- though we’d say there wasn’t anything in particular that stood out. It was difficult to perceive any practical difference in performance speed between it and Internet Explorer running on Modern. Like IE on Modern, this is a bare-bones browser better suited for a touchscreen, or on a large TV screen, where you would do casual web browsing and not need to use a keyboard much.