Take a tour of Firefox's new 'Metro-ized' browser

Mozilla is on track to launch Firefox for Windows 8 Touch in March. Here are the highlights of its touch-first browser, now in beta.

Firefox's 'Metro-ized' browser

After nearly two years of work, Mozilla last week promoted the "Metro" version of its Firefox browser to the Beta channel with plans to push it to the polished Release channel as early as March 18.

The browser can be downloaded from Mozilla. It's part of the package that includes Firefox 28 Beta for the desktop. Here are some of the features you will see in Firefox for Windows 8 Touch.

Mozilla's browser has been two years in the making

The touch-enabled Firefox features large targets for adding a new tab -- the "+" symbol on the right -- and steering back to the previous page with the back arrow at the left. Unlike the desktop edition, the Metro-ized Firefox -- the one suited for Windows 8's and 8.1's tile-based, touch-first user interface (UI) -- places the address bar at the bottom of the window.

The browser can be full-screen or 'snapped' to fill part of the screen

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch -- the mouthful that Mozilla's named the browser -- can be a full-screen app in the Metro UI, or can be "snapped" or "filled" to occupy just part of the screen. Here the browser is open while Windows 8.1's native Bing Weather fills the rest of the display.

Open tabs are accessed by swiping down

Open tabs are represented by large thumbnails, and are accessed by swiping down from the top middle of a touchscreen. Touching one of the thumbnails brings up that tab's page, while the "+" symbol at the right creates a new tab.

The browser supports Windows 8.1's Share charm

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch supports Windows 8.1's Share charm, which lets users share a page via email or a social network whose app is installed on the device.

"Reading List" is essentially a bookmark-like feature available to not only Firefox but also other apps, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer 11 (IE11), to save pages for later reading.

To access the Share charm -- and others baked into Windows -- users simply swipe from the right side of the screen, then touch Share.

The browser's start or new tab screen has a number of uses

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch's start or new tab screen -- it has a number of uses -- can be brought up by touching the "+" symbol on the far right of the browser's primary screen.

The page lists the most-frequently viewed websites, bookmarks and the browser history (off-screen at the right in this image).

The address bar is also available for new searches or URLs.

The address bar offers several search selections

Typing in the address bar automatically brings up several search selections for Firefox in Metro.

Unlike the desktop version, Firefox for Windows 8 Touch does not default to Google.

Web pages can be 'pinned' to the Windows 8.1 Start screen

Any page viewed with Firefox for Windows 8 Touch can be "pinned" to the Windows 8.1 Start screen, where it will show as a colorful tile for immediate access.

Firefox has only a few option settings

Keeping to the simplicity of the Metro UI, Firefox has only a few option settings, which are accessed by touching the Settings charm after swiping in from the right.

Among those options is one to set "Do Not Track," the anti-monitoring standard that appears to be dead in the water, reviled by online advertisers. By default, Firefox for Windows 8 Touch sends no signal.

But although Mozilla has crafted an impressive Metro browser, it's being released just as Microsoft is backing away from the UI. Windows 8.1 Update 1, now seemingly set to debut in early April, will continue the retreat from Metro, the Start screen and its apps by reinstating several more features it originally had yanked from the desktop mode.

Mozilla's timing couldn't be worse.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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