Old habits die hard, it seems. These days, Apple may be the big kid in the tech industry playground – or “the man” if you prefer, in the sense of how plucky underdogs look to “stick it to the man”.
Well OK, lingo like that is probably a couple of decades out of date, but that brings us nicely to the subject of this piece – Microsoft, and some Windows 8-related news that sounds like something from MS's bad old days.
The Redmond software giant apparently plans to limit many users of Windows 8 RT – the version of its next-gen OS for ARM-based devices – to just a single web browser... its own Internet Explorer.
The news doesn't come to us via Microsoft itself, but rather from Mozilla, who you can no doubt imagine are more than a little put out. It's only the traditional desktop-style Windows Classic version of Windows 8 RT that is affected, and not the touch-friendly Metro version which both Mozilla and Google have already committed to support.
In a scathing blog post, Mozilla describes the move as potentially heralding “an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages”.
“The prospect that the next generation of Windows on ARM devices would limit users to one browser is untenable and represents a first step toward a new platform lock-in,” Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson wrote.
Windows Classic devices are likely to be the less popular of the two options, but that's not really the issue according to Mozilla: “IE on ARM has access to win32 APIs – even when it’s running in Metro mode, but no other Metro browser has that same access,” company spokesperson Asa Dotzler points out. “Without that access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with IE.”
Not surprisingly, Google has come out in support of Mozilla's position, rolling out the old “competition breeds innovation” line.
“We share the concerns Mozilla has raised regarding the Windows 8 environment restricting user choice and innovation,” a Google spokesperson said.
“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.”
So why exactly is Microsoft pushing ahead with a decision that was guaranteed from day one to prove controversial? It believes it represents the lesser of two evils. It argues that allowing existing third-party software (such as rival web browsers) to be ported over largely unchanged from the current x86-based Windows 7 environment to the ARM-based architecture to be used by Windows 8 RT will involve more compromises than conveniences for developers.
“If we enabled the broad porting of existing code we would fail to deliver on our commitment to longer battery life, predictable performance, and especially a reliable experience over time,” Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky wrote back in February. “The conventions used by today’s Windows apps do not necessarily provide this.”
That's all fair and well, but it also seems more than a little convenient that the whole thing seems to have worked out rather nicely for Microsoft and IE.
Almost makes you want to dig out that old copy of Antitrust on VHS again...