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Mozilla: Microsoft blocking rival browsers in Windows RT

IE on Windows 8

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 10 May 2012 at 09:39

Microsoft is returning to the "digital dark ages" by blocking rival browsers from the ARM version of Windows 8, Firefox-maker Mozilla has said.

Windows 8 will have standard browser support in the Intel editions, but the ARM version - dubbed Windows RT - will only allow Microsoft's Internet Explorer full access. Rival browsers won't be allowed on the "classic" desktop, while Metro style versions will have limited access to APIs.

"In practice, this means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed, stability and security to which users have grown accustomed," said Harvey Anderson, Mozilla's general counsel in a blog post. "Given that IE can run in Windows on ARM, there is no technical reason to conclude other browsers can't do the same."

Given that IE can run in Windows on ARM, there is no technical reason to conclude other browsers can't do the same

That excludes other browsers from the platform, he said, describing it as an "untenable" situation that would be a first step toward a new platform lock-in that "restricts user choice, reduces competition and chills innovation".

"Unfortunately, the upcoming release of Windows for the ARM processor architecture and Microsoft’s browser practices regarding Windows 8 Metro signal an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages where users and developers didn’t have browser choices," said Anderson.

Those so-called dark ages were forced to end by regulators, Mozilla noted, suggesting that blocking rival browsers from Windows RT could lead to similar action. "If Windows on ARM is simply another version of Windows on new hardware, it also runs afoul of the EC browser choice commitments and seems to represent the very behaviour the DoJ-Microsoft settlement sought to prohibit," Anderson added.

He called for Microsoft to "reject the temptation to pursue a closed path," adding "the world doesn't need another closed proprietary environment"

Google agrees

Mozilla isn't the only browser maker expressing concerns: Google said it agreed with the Firefox-maker's complaint.

"We share the concerns Mozilla has raised regarding the Windows 8 environment restricting user choice and innovation," Google said in a statement sent to CNet. "We've always welcomed innovation in the browser space across all platforms and strongly believe that having great competitors makes us all work harder. In the end, consumers and developers benefit the most from robust competition."

Microsoft has yet to respond to request for comment.

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User comments

iPad

This is just like the iPad. Theres is nothing wrong with Microsoft limiting IE to ARM tablets, as this is what Apple does. So if Microsoft has to give way surely Apple do with their iPad.

By henry20012 on 10 May 2012

Windows 8 tablet was tempting...

... but without being able to use Chrome, which is in my opinion the best browser around, it would make me think twice. I guess there will be x86 tablets for Windows 8 as well as ARM, so might have to see what comes out after launch and then decide. Had been thinking ARM based for power use, but if it's too restrictive we wont use that route at work and I doubt I'll use it for home either.

By skarlock on 10 May 2012

@henry20012

In defence of Apple, although iPad 1 was limited to Safari, more recently it has been possible to install alternative browsers on iPads. I'm not sure if they have restricted API access as seems to be the case with Windows 8 RT. Maybe someone can clarify that point?

By skarlock on 10 May 2012

Maybe I'm being dense ...

... but why would MS even care what browser people use?

It's not as if they are making any money from IE.

In fact, I would have thought it would be in their best interests to scrap it as it must be costing them money to maintain and enhance and they are clearly not very good at it.

By qpw3141 on 10 May 2012

Desktop is the issue...

Firefox and Chrome CAN run on Windows RT, what they can't do is use the Desktop environment.

Given that MS' goal is to eradicate the desktop entirely from ARM, it isn't surprising that only a few MS apps can access it for "legacy" reasons, whilst everything else is going Metro.

I expect, as Metro and Windows RT apps become more prevalent and the need for Flash falls, less and less people will need the desktop version of IE, which isn't optimised for use on a tablet...

By big_D on 10 May 2012

@qpw341

They do make money from it. By default IE uses Bing as it's search engine. MS generate revenue from Bing advertising and preferential search ranking (I might be wrong on that second point), so getting IE used by more people increases those who leave Bing as their default search engine and so increases revenue.

By skarlock on 10 May 2012

@skarlock

IIRC all browsers on the app store must use webkit, the only exception is opera which bypasses this because the page is rendered remotely.

So even if MS do this, it's still basically IE.

By tech3475 on 10 May 2012

More info...

http://www.freelists.org/post/luajit/FYI-No-JIT-on
-Windows-8-for-ARM

Just found this, it isn't just add-ins, like Flash, but JIT abilities, the traditional Win32 calls are used at the moment for making code executable at run time (i.e. accelerating JavaScript by compiling it as it runs, instead of interpreting it).

WinRT doesn't have an equivalent of this, because WinRT doesn't execute native code anyway.

This is where the problem comes in. MS want to phase out Win32 on ARM (it is old, decrepid and needs a darned good overhaul, so WinRT is seen as the future), but WinRT is also more restrictive than platform dependent code.

By big_D on 10 May 2012

This article seems to be a mere rehash of a petty Mozilla blog post devoid of any fact checking.

WinRT as an API has a perfectly nice network layer, and I'm sure that if Mozilla et al wish to port their browsers to the new API, this would be possible. If they're complaining that MS isn't making the win32 api available on ARM, then tough, stick to windows CE.

I had expected more from PC Pro than a mere blog repost.

By drslothy on 10 May 2012

ZDNet...

Ed Bot over on ZDNet does a good analysis...

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/mozilla-and-google-
accuse-microsoft-of-unfair-browser-competition/499
5

By big_D on 10 May 2012

Google pot kettle black.

I have just read on the Google support forums that you cannot install another browser on their Chromebooks. Just think of the dozens of users who won't be able to run Firefox :)

By ronwatson71 on 10 May 2012

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