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Mozilla and Google ARMwrestle Microsoft

Mozilla and Google ARMwrestle Microsoft

Windows 8 will be built for both traditional PCs as well as devices that use ARM processors, like tablets. But ARM Windows devices won't allow the use of browsers other than Internet Explorer, and that decision has Mozilla accusing Redmond of restricting user choice and chilling innovation. The Firefox maker also raised questions about antitrust regulations. Google reportedly shares Mozilla's concerns.

By Richard Adhikari TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
05/12/12 5:00 AM PT

Mozilla and Google are challenging Microsoft's decision to shut out all browsers other than Internet Explorer from Windows 8 devices that use ARM processors.

This restricts user choice, reduces competition, chills innovation, and might have antitrust implications, among other bad things, Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson asserted.

Google shares Mozilla's concerns, according to a report in Cnet.

"Mozilla's beef is focused on what Windows 8's going to play," Jim McGregor, president of Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld. "Windows 8, as it will exist in June, is for the next generation of PCs and Ultrabooks."

However, Windows RT, which is the ARM version of Windows 8, "is using Apple's iPad as a model, which means it's very tightly controlled with regard to user experience to provide a very high degree of consistency and reliability," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, pointed out. "The goal is zero problems and an incredibly low support cost so it can hit or beat iPad prices and margins."

What Mozilla's Complaining About

Exclusion of other browsers from Windows RT could have wider implications because ARM processors will be used in PCs as well as mobile devices in the future, Mozilla's Anderson said, and that means only one browser will be offered on any device using Windows for ARM.

Further, he said, the exclusion contradicts Microsoft's own published principles, which developers have relied on.

Microsoft might also be breaching the agreement on browser choice it reached with the EU in 2009, as well as the antitrust settlement the company reached with the United States Department of Justice, Anderson warned.

"I agree with Mozilla that [Microsoft's move] runs afoul of its openness in the past," Tirias Research's McGregor said. "If there are any roadblocks in enabling a competitive environment in browsers, whether in Classic or Metro mode, Mozilla has a case, and I don't blame them -- the Metro mode is designed to be a more mobile-like interface so that if Microsoft does become successful in mobile devices, a good portion of that Metro interface will be the foundation of their next mobile platform. If that's the case and it still carries the restriction, you're not just locking out other browsers from PCs but from everything else."

A Mozilla spokesperson was not immediately available to provide further details.

The threat of locking out other browsers from mobile devices is particularly sensitive, as mobile is the fastest-growing segment of the market and mobile devices are cannibalizing PC sales, a fact that has impressed itself forcibly on Facebook.

Google did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Too Much, Too Soon?

On the other hand, perhaps Mozilla and Google are jumping the gun.

"Windows 8 is drastically different to all the other platforms they've had in the past, so there aren't the traditional APIs in Metro that there are in Windows Classic Mode, and Microsoft would have to release additional code to allow other browsers to run," McGregor pointed out.

"Microsoft could in the future release features that work with other browsers later," McGregor continued. "You see that from Intel and hardware vendors all the time. Perhaps they can legally do that."

Imposing these restrictions might be risky, and "clearly the EU could argue this is a breach," Enderle said. "But, given this platform is targeted at iPad users where Microsoft has zero share and [its actions are] similar to what the dominant vendor is doing, the antitrust argument alone would likely fail."

Microsoft's restrictions are necessary because "if you want to assure an experience that is largely tied to Web resources, then every part of the OS that has to do with that experience, including the browser, has to be very consistent or the product is likely to fail when new apps are installed or patches are applied," Enderle stated. "The goal here is to offer something that is as reliable as, or more reliable than, the iPad, which carries a very high consistency requirement."

Microsoft spokesperson Annie Truong declined to discuss further details, pointing TechNewsWorld to a blog entry on Windows 8 development for ARM processors posted in February.


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