Mozilla resets Metro Firefox ship date to mid-March

Designers and developers suggest 'Firefox Touch' as the name for the often-delayed Windows 8 and 8.1 browser

Mozilla has again pushed back the release date for a touch-enabled version of Firefox that will run in Windows 8's "Modern" user interface (UI), with the new target in mid-March.

Ship estimates for the browser have been fluid, to put it mildly. In August, the open-source developer pegged December 2013 as the target for the "Metro-ized" version of Firefox. In September, Mozilla said it was hoping to bundle Firefox Metro with the Windows edition of Firefox 27, slated for release on Feb. 4.

Metro was the name Microsoft once applied to the radical UI of Windows 8, but the company ditched the moniker in 2012 over a trademark dispute with a German retailer.

The newest information from Mozilla, however, has tapped March 18, when Firefox 28 is to ship, as the projected release of the browser.

Although a preview of Firefox Metro was bundled with the Aurora build of Firefox more than three months ago -- and is currently in Aurora for Firefox 28 -- it has not yet been promoted to the next channel, Beta, which is the precursor to Release. Mozilla has set a Jan. 31 deadline for deciding whether the touch browser is ready to add to Firefox 28 Beta.

Mozilla started work on a Metro edition of Firefox in March 2012. It shipped a rough 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. In May 2013, however, the company said its developers would complete Firefox for Modern between Oct. 2, 2013, and March 20, 2014, with mid-November the likeliest date.

If Mozilla makes the targeted 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.

Although Mozilla has said it's important that it have a Metro-ready browser to remain competitive -- and Windows 8's and Windows 8.1's user share has climbed above the 10% mark -- it's unclear what percentage of those PC and tablet owners spend serious time in the UI, as opposed to the traditional Windows desktop.

Mozilla is also discussing a name for the browser, which was code named "Firefox Metro" during development and later was saddled with the label "Windows 8-style Firefox."

One suggestion, forwarded by a Mozilla user experience designer, has been "Firefox Touch," which got nods of approval from others in a Mozilla planning message forum.

"'Windows 8-style Firefox' is too long and already doesn't make perfect sense with Windows 8.1 released, but will make less sense when Windows 9 comes out," noted Brian Bondy, a Firefox platform engineer who has led the work on the Metro version. "I like Firefox Touch and I think we should go with that. It's a product designed above all else for touch."

Some, however, objected to labeling the browser as "Firefox Touch," pointing out that that would downplay the Android browser Mozilla maintains, which is also touch-enabled.

"I agree with Jim that it should be simply Firefox, and that differentiation happens at the point of download," countered Peter Scanlon, Mozilla's acting chief marketing officer, in another message to the same discussion forum.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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