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.
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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Jared Newman covers personal technology from his remote Cincinnati outpost. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for help with ditching cable or satellite TV.