4 days before release, Mozilla scraps Firefox for Windows 8 "Metro" UI

So close, and yet so far.

Mozilla announced Friday that it has officially put a stake in its attempts at bringing its big browser, Firefox, to Windows 8 — at least, the touchscreen / Modern / Metro half of the Windows 8 experience.

It's a bit surprising of an announcement given the timing: The Modern UI version of the browser was scheduled to ship on 18 March with the release of Firefox 28. For those keeping score at home, that means that Mozilla officially pulled the plug on the browser but a few days before it was supposed to see the light of day.

The reason? Take a guess.

"In late 2012, when I started up the Firefox for Metro team (I know that's not what Microsoft calls it anymore, but it remains how we talk about it in Mozilla), it looked like the next battleground for the Web.

Windows is a massive ecosystem and Microsoft pushes its new platforms hard. At first, it looked like we would be locked out completely. We eventually broke open Metro (though never the RT line of ARM-based products) and we got to work," wrote Mozilla's vice president of Firefox, Johnathan Nightingale, in a blog post.

"In the months since, 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 pre-release versions of Firefox desktop, but we've never seen more than 1,000 active daily users in the Metro environment."

In other words, Mozilla had a bit of a problem on its hands. It could launch the Metro iteration of Firefox "in a platform our users have shown little sign of adopting," Nightingale describes, and be forced to perform a not-so-insignificant amount of bug-squashing, design, and support throughout the browser's entire lifespan.

Or, suggested Nightingale, Mozilla could scrap development entirely and roll the dice on whether Windows users' adoption of Metro might take off at some point in the future.

With the company going that route, there's still a slight bit of bet-hedging going on. Mozilla plans to continue to host the browser's code in the off chance that Windows users might someday find the Metro Firefox experience a bit more compelling.

(Don't hold your breath.)

Mozilla's announcement also had a few reverberations within the Firefox team itself. Brian Bondy, the Mozilla engineer tasked with the development of Firefox on Metro, announced Friday that he was leaving the company for a new position at online education website Khan Academy.