Firefox Windows 8 app now available in Nightly builds

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 13, 2013

Mozilla and Google are both working on app versions of their browsers for the Windows 8 operating system. Today, Mozilla made available first Nightly builds of Firefox that make available a special version of the browser for Windows 8's start screen environment.

Firefox users who want to test the interface can do so by installing the latest Nightly version of Firefox on their version of Windows 8. Note that this is only possible on Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, and not on devices powered by Windows RT like the Surface RT.

It is also worth noting that Firefox needs to be set as the default system browser for the app version to become available on the system. If it is not the default browser, it will automatically launch all websites and protocols on the desktop.

You can make Firefox the default web browser on Windows 8 the following way:

  • Open the desktop version of the browser.
  • Select Nightly > Options.
  • Switch to Advanced > General and select Make Nightly the default browser.
  • This opens a Windows control panel applet that enables you to change the default application.
  • Select Nightly from the list and click on set this program as default.

firefox windows application screenshot

First thing you will notice when you start Firefox from Windows 8's start screen is that it launches in a nice looking full screen interface just like any other Windows application. You find the address bar at the top with back and reload buttons, a plus icon to launch new tabs, and a selection of top sites, bookmarks and recent history items on the new tab page.

You can display all open tabs with a right-click which displays them as thumbnails at the top. From here it is possible to switch between tabs and to close tabs.

The majorty of keyboard shortcuts work in this version of the browser as well, from opening new tabs with Ctrl-t to switching between tabs with Ctrl-1 to 9, or adding pages to the bookmarks with Ctrl-D. Some shortcuts do not work yet, like saving pages with Ctrl-S for example.

firefox windows 8 screenshot

Websites can be pinned to the start screen of the operating system and there are a couple of minor options available as well, like displaying the download history.

I really like the overall design of the browser even though I'd prefer it to display tabs all the time and not only on right-clicks. You can access a couple of settings using the Charms bar including what Firefox should display on startup (the start page or the tabs from the last sessions) or whether you want your data to be synced.

Note that this is a preliminary version for testing purposes. It is likely that Mozilla will add a lot of options to the browser in the coming months. For now, it looks really nice but lacks functionality that I'd like to see in the browser. One example of that is that add-on support is not implemented yet even though you can open about:addons already.


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  1. Peter (NL) said on February 14, 2013 at 7:19 am

    What is a content-first approach ? I don’t understand this expression. The disability of pinning websites: is that not a Windows 8 problem rather than a specific browser fail ? Overall, I am not impressed by this Firefox Metro UI.

    I also agree with you Martin about the need for a Metro app version of a browser.

    1. S. Kyle Davis said on February 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm

      The entire Metro Design Philosophy (I still use the term Metro for the philosophy itself, call the start screen whatever you want) is built upon the philosophy that the UI should get out of the way. It’s useful as a signpost once, but after that, it’s needless. I have always (even before Win8) liked my browser especially to be as clean as possible. I even liked the concept of going full screen on the desktop, but since the rest of the OS wasn’t built to accommodate that, I found it annoying (I had to return to normal, move it around, open something else up, do that, then restore the browser window, then make fullscreen again). However, I always liked chrome because there was so little… umm… chrome… and so much of the actual webpage. That is a major reason I liked it over IE initially. That’s why I like IE10 in Windows 8. It’s fullscreen nature flows well with the rest of the OS. Now, it can be really disjointing if you aren’t used to how (“metro”) Windows 8 apps work, but if you learn the overall design method and UI approach for Win8, then using IE specially is pretty easy. It looks like Firefox will be the same way. Chrome’s version for Metro, on the other hand, just looks like a maximized browser windows, and there isn’t any optimizations for touch at all.

      As for pinning sites, it’s a browser fail. It’s a feature of the browser itself, a benefit and feature of the WinRT platform that Chrome doesn’t make use of. IE10 for Metro does, and the reports here say that the Nightly version of Firefox does as well. This is really a great feature, something that several articles say is one of the best unknown features of Windows 8. Since Windows 8 is a true desktop operating system capable of rendering any website on the internet, then the need for dedicated apps is less than for other platforms. I’ve pinned facebook to my desktop, and I have no desire for a dedicated facebook app. Maybe if Windows 8 had a notifications center (one thing it sorely lacks, and a major reason I’m not looking at WP8 for my next phone), I would want it. Again, that’s because it’s the true Facebook website, not some poorly-designed “mobile website” that is slow and buggy. You can pin sites on my Android phone too, but I still prefer dedicated apps there, because mobile websites suck in general.

      As for the need for a Metro version of a browser… well, I’m writing this on my full Windows 8 tablet. I would really like a nice touch-optimized version of the OS. So would anyone with a touchscreen laptop, touch all in one, desktop with a touch monitor, or just anyone who gets/prefers the content-first philosophy I mentioned earlier. ;-)

  2. S. Kyle Davis said on February 13, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    “I really like the overall design of the browser even though I’d prefer it to display tabs all the time and not only on right-clicks.”

    You are sort of missing the point of the entire content-first Windows 8 aesthetic. The lack of a content-first approach (and the inability to easily pin websites) is the reason I’m not using Chrome as my default browser right now. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but right now I’m really enjoying IE. I may check out Nightly, though. IE isn’t exactly the fastest browser on the block.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on February 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      To be totally honest, I fail to see a reason to use the app version of any browser on Windows 8.

      1. sades said on February 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm

        Maybe they have pitiful screen real estate, so much that a few precious pixel is more important than ease of use.

      2. YB said on February 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm

        Totally agree Martin, unless you have Windows RT

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