Last Friday, Firefox VP Johnathan Nightingale posted a very interesting blog post entitled “Update on Metro.” The first paragraph of this post basically announced the company’s decision to “take the Windows Metro version of Firefox off the trains” and goes on to opine that “shipping a 1.0 version, given the broader context we see for the Metro platform, would be a mistake.” As it turns out, the decision is based on uptake of the Metro platform in the wild, where Nightingale reported flatly that “On any given day we have…millions of people testing pre-release versions of Firefox desktop, but we’ve never seen more than 1000 active daily users in the Metro environment.”
To some extent, the size of this limited beta test community helped sway Firefox’s decision to back away from Metro Firefox because of the potential impact of incomplete and less-than-thorough testing. But my reading of the situation also demands consideration of the company’s determination that Metro just isn’t going to pick up the kind of momentum or critical mass to justify an ongoing investment in the environment in the years ahead. As Nightingale puts 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 signs of adopting” (emphasis mine).
Instead, Firefox plans to “…focus our efforts in places where we can reach more people.” I’m wondering if this decision, and the factors that drove it, don’t also spell out some important lessons and observations for the whole Modern UI side of the Windows world at present. With everything that MS is doing to restore ease of use and navigation to mouse-and-keyboard based Windows users, the company itself appears to be recognizing that not everybody is interested in Modern UI. Consider also that mouse-and-keyboard setups serve the majority of the Windows user population by no less than a 90% margin — MS itself reported on 2/23/14 that only 40 percent of Windows 8 machines are touch-enabled, and Windows 8 versions currently represent no more than 10% of all Windows installations active on the Internet — and I see a situation where more companies that Firefox must surely be pondering the soundness of investing further in a narrow-niche UI that nevertheless requires a major effort to buy into and develop for. I repeat my initial reaction: “Very interesting!”