Metro Firefox was doomed from the get-go

After a parade of promises, Mozilla unexpectedly cancelled the Windows 8 version of its browser because no one cared

On Friday, Mozilla VP Johnathan Nightingale dropped an unexpected bomb: Despite the fact that Mozilla had released a new beta version of Metro Firefox just a week earlier, Mozilla is pulling the plug on the entire product. The cited cause: lack of customer interest in Metro Firefox. Although there's no question that Metro Firefox drew yawns from every corner, that was only one part of a very dismal picture that led to Metro Forefox's cancellation.

Here's how Nightingale put it:

As the team built and tested and refined the product, we've been watching Metro's adoption. From what we can see, it's pretty flat. On any given day we have, for instance, millions of people testing prerelease versions of Firefox [for the legacy Windows] Desktop, but we've never seen more than 1,000 active daily users in the Metro environment. This leaves us with a hard choice. We could ship it, but it means doing so without much real-world testing. ... Instead, we pull it. This opens up the risk that Metro might take off tomorrow and we'd have to scramble to catch back up, but that's a better risk for us to take than the real costs of investment in a platform our users have shown little sign of adopting.

Metro Firefox has had a long and tortured history. You may remember that at first Microsoft wouldn't allow any third-party browsers on the Metro side of Windows 8. (More accurately, Microsoft cut off the APIs that would allow non-Microsoft developers to create reasonably good Metro browsers.) Two years ago, faced with threats of lawsuits from Mozilla, Google, Apple, and others, Microsoft backed off and created a beast called the "Metro-style enabled desktop browser," which had enough access to the Metro API with which to build a decent browser -- or so we were told.

Microsoft never has given adequate access to the APIs in Windows RT, the ARM-based, Metro-only version Windows 8. Given the utter lack of popularity of Windows RT, that's a blessing for Mozilla and Google -- they never lost any money developing for it. As a result, all 10 Surface tablet owners need not fear having to consider using a browser other than Windows RT's Internet Explorer.

But Mozilla has invested in Windows 8's Metro. Demos of Metro Firefox surfaced in April 2012, and the first widely distributed Metro Firefox pre-alpha appeared in February 2013, on the Firefox Nightly channel. We've been promised a stable version of Metro Firefox for months, with launch dates scheduled (and broken) for Dec. 10, 2013, Feb. 4, and March 18.

Now, it's officially dead for lack of interest.

It's important to realize that Mozilla is scrapping only the Metro version. Mozilla's still building and deploying Firefox on the legacy, Windows 7-style desktop side of Windows 8. And Mozilla is committed to making Firefox versions for Windows XP after Microsoft pulls the plug on XP support. XP yes, Metro no. Vox populi.

Remarkably, according to the latest user database figures from antivirus company Avast, 46 percent of current XP computers run Google Chrome and 29 percent run Firefox. Thus, depending on whose numbers you believe, more than 100 million WinXP PCs run Firefox -- possibly many more -- day in and day out.

That kinda puts the 1,000 Metro tester number in perspective, wouldn't you say?

This story, "Metro Firefox was doomed from the get-go," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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