First Look: Firefox for Windows 8 beta

Mozilla’s tablet-friendly version of Firefox for Windows 8 is coming together, and an early public build of the browser is now available.

It’s obviously still a work-in-progress – there’s no documentation, and some vital functions (such as mouse-wheel support) do not work. Still, it’s enough to get a feel for how Firefox will work on the “don’t call it Metro” side of Windows 8.

New tabs in Firefox for Windows 8 offer a three-column view of bookmarks, recent history, and download, presented as rectangular icons consistent with the Windows interface. On top, there’s a unified bar for URLs and searches.

Once you’ve navigated to a Web page, Firefox switches to a full-screen view. From here, you must right-click to bring up the address bar, and right-click again to show all open tabs. (I haven’t tried this on a tablet, but I assume there are corresponding swipes to bring up these menus.) Don’t fret, though – you can configure the browser to show the address bar and all tabs at all times.

Right-clicking also brings up a few other options in a menu bar at the bottom of the screen. Here, you can jump to the downloads list, find a word on the page, open a page on the desktop, zoom in or out, create a bookmark, or pin the page to the Start screen.

The bottom menu

This early build of Firefox does support sharing through the Charms bar in Windows 8, so it’s easy to pass a link along to your Twitter or Facebook app of choice. Windows 8’s universal search function is not yet supported.

Though this is an early build, it’s showing a lot of promise. I like the flexibility that allows you to switch between fullscreen and tabbed views, and the conformance to Windows 8 design aesthetics. So far, Firefox does a better job of bridging the tablet-desktop gap than does the early version of Google Chrome we saw back in June.

There’s no word on when the final version will be available, but hopefully a more usable version will be ready by the time Windows 8 ships on October 26. In the meantime, you can try the build from downloadcrew.com. When you open it for the first time, set it as the default browser, and a “Nightly” icon will appear on the Windows 8 Start screen.

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