Microsoft's Windows 8 RT browser snub has Mozilla and Google up in arms

Microsoft's Windows 8 RT browser snub has Mozilla and Google up in armsOld 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Well OK, lingo like that is probably a couple of decades out of date, but that brings us nicely to the subject of this piece – Microsoft, and some Windows 8-related news that sounds like something from MS's bad old days.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...

Via Slashgear

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16 comments

JanSt / MOD  May. 11, 2012 at 17:36

Ah, yes... lovely!

DamienB  May. 11, 2012 at 17:43

That's to say if Windows 8 even becomes relevant on tablets. I'd say that tablet users are more tech savvy than those that kept IE6 so strong.

Pondlife  May. 11, 2012 at 18:02

Can't see as they have enough of a hold on the market to get the EU to force them to open it to other browsers. However they risk shooting themselves in the foot though as I for one wouldn't get one if I can only use IE.

bilbob  May. 11, 2012 at 18:49

AIUI, ipads use safari. Only safari. Sometimes under skin, but it's still safari.

Yet no one is complaining?

SpeedyG  May. 11, 2012 at 19:43

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-U_NeeYj8UVE/T5VDTwrnlHI/AAAAAAAABLk/8zUFlTDlyfI/s1600/can-of-worms.jpg

JanSt / MOD  May. 11, 2012 at 20:15

AIUI, ipads use safari. Only safari. Sometimes under skin, but it's still safari.

Yet no one is complaining?

There are dozens of third party browsers for iOS, and not all use the native Safari machine (Opera, to name one, who made Apple reconsider their policy; and various cloud browsers bring actually full Firefox sessions to the iPad)...
So, you are a few years late with your critique...
Initially, yes, all 3rd party browsers for iOS were mere skinjobs. But Apple got a lot of heat for that (incl from me hahaha).
It's another case of MS not learning from other companies' mistakes: remember WP launch? No copy/paste etcetc....
MS, I believe, have still to realise just how much things have changed.
And to be clear: I don't care! I'm 5 to 6 years past explaining why I despise the club. :p

barrybarryk  May. 11, 2012 at 20:29

Why would anyone use the 'classic' desktop on a tablet?
Apart from Office apps I really can't think of a reason. Metro applications are going to be far easier to use on a tablet than switching to desktop mode just to open a browser. I don't really see it causing a problem.

Pondlife  May. 11, 2012 at 20:51

Why would anyone use the 'classic' desktop on a tablet?
Apart from Office apps I really can't think of a reason. Metro applications are going to be far easier to use on a tablet than switching to desktop mode just to open a browser. I don't really see it causing a problem.


The key point is

The issue is that only Classic apps get full access to all of the APIs the OS offers; Metro apps must make do with a smaller subset. “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” Dotzler elaborates. ”Without that access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with IE.”

When browsers are running in Metro IE can access APIs that the others can't, so they are disadvantaged.


Actually tbh I think this article isn't well written and it doesn't accurately fit the one it links to. Better off reading the link.

barrybarryk  May. 11, 2012 at 21:00

How are they disadvantaged? they'll have access to the same API's that all the other metro apps have. You don't need full access to the OS to make a decent web browser and a core part of the Windows RT security plan is that ALL metro applications are sandboxed. There's absolutely no reason to be using win32 api's for a browser on ARM unless you're making a dogs dinner of it

IE has always had better access to windows apis and it's still a crap browser, why anyone will think that'll change is beyond me

Pondlife  May. 11, 2012 at 21:08

That's to say if Windows 8 even becomes relevant on tablets. I'd say that tablet users are more tech savvy than those that kept IE6 so strong.

More tech savvy? That's quality.

matt101101 / MOD  May. 11, 2012 at 22:20

That's to say if Windows 8 even becomes relevant on tablets. I'd say that tablet users are more tech savvy than those that kept IE6 so strong.

More tech savvy? That's quality.

He has a point. Most people owned a computer (and never updated the browser from IE6), most people do not own a tablet, you need at least a mild interest in technology to go out and buy one, whereas a PC is a staple item of almost every household in the developed world.

Pondlife  May. 11, 2012 at 23:26

Just think that those who dashed out to buy these were amongst the least tech capable people. There will be exceptions but I'd say they were aimed at the same people who wanted broken cup holders on pcs fixed more than anyone.

Much the same way that the basic Kindle Fire before christmas in us sold cheap on expectation of spoon feeding content.

DamienB  May. 12, 2012 at 15:16

Aye but I don't see your granny going out to buy a Windows 8 tablet

matt101101 / MOD  May. 12, 2012 at 15:22

Aye but I don't see your granny going out to buy a Windows 8 tablet
My point entirely, whereas your granny is likely to have a PC of some description (Intel Pentium 3, ftw :p).

Pondlife  May. 12, 2012 at 15:37

Was in Currys the other day whilst a salesperson was pushing hard to sell an ipad to a granny (with daughter and grandaughter in tow) was surprised he was trying so hard to get them away from the tablet they wanted. But he was talking so much ****, if I didn't like popping in there from time to time I'd have pointed that out.

Neither of my grans have neither tablet nor computer, not even sure they've ever even used a computer tbh.

Pondlife  May. 12, 2012 at 16:04

I think a lot of the ones that were slowest to be updated or weren't at all were in schools, charities, universities or companies where the users weren't allowed to update them. Have had to use some horrible dated software that way.

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