Soon, Internet Explorer 10 won't be the only Metro-style browser in Town.
The most often cited complaint about Windows Phone is that platform's supposed lack of apps, and many critics are looking ahead to the similarly architected Windows 8 and wondering if this is going to suffer a similar fate. While the nearly 100 apps that appeared in the Windows Store at the launch of the Consumer Preview last month should have put those fears to rest, I'm looking at a more pragmatic measure of what we can expect. And it's good news.
That measure is third party web browser support.
You probably know that the top two desktop web browsers, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, are not available on Windows Phone. In fact, Mozilla was curiously vocal in its opposition to Windows Phone, (incorrectly) citing that platform's lack of support for "native code." (The truth is, Microsoft will work with any major developer to create native Windows Phone apps. I'm guessing Mozilla never bothered to ask.)
Fast forward to early 2012 and, guess what? Both Chrome and Firefox are coming to Windows 8, in Metro app form and they're working on this support at a very early time.
This is interesting for a number of reasons.
Metro versions of web browsers are bound by specific rules that are complex and contrary to how everything else works in Windows 8. I'm writing about this situation in Windows 8 Secrets, but I previously hinted at some of the issues in my article Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Internet Explorer 10 Secrets, which was the first to reveal the strange relationship between Metro-style browsers like IE 10 and desktop browsers, especially when you change the default browser. (For example: If you choose a non-IE browser as your default in Windows 7 and then upgrade to Windows 8, you won't even be able to find the Metro version of IE 10.)
Metro-style apps are unproven, from both usability and API perspectives, and while I'm sure Google and Mozilla will continue to develop desktop versions of their browsers, a Metro "skin" is essentially a whole different product. So these folks are both taking on a completely new platform, essentially, while also developing the traditional Windows products. That's a big burden and responsibility.
Metro-style browsers cannot support add-ons, so they must rely on web standards for virtually everything. This means that they will be, by design, less capable than desktop browsers in some ways, in order to be more secure and reliable, and offer better performance. But they will also need to interact in some way with their desktop cousins. IE Metro 10, for example, shares browsing history, typed addresses, settings, HTML/JS/CSS engines, and security/privacy features like SmartScreen, XSS filtering, and InPrivate browsing with desktop IE 10. How well Google and Mozilla implement this interaction will be a key to their relative successes on Windows 8, I think.
You can read about Mozilla's efforts to develop a Metro version of Firefox in the post Building Firefox for Windows 8 Metro on Asa Dotzler's blog. Google's efforts are highlighted in a report from Mashable.