The issue resolves around Windows RT (that’s Windows for ARM-based devices, including tablets), and the fact that it will only run Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer in the traditional desktop style – thereby limiting third-party browsers like Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox to running on Intel-powered machines, or presenting a much-more basic, Metro style browsing on Windows RT devices.
Mozilla’s complaint seems to center on the issue that third-party browsers using the Metro version will be given a smaller number of APIs, effectively restricting the number of features Google or Mozilla can run, and destroying browser competition in the process.
“The prospect that the next generation of Windows on ARM devices would limit users to one browser is untenable and represents the first step towards a new platform lock-in”, said Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson, when writing in a company blog.
Anderson admits that Windows RT devices are likely to be in the minority at the start of Windows 8, but believes that this issue could become a bigger problem for third-party developers as Microsoft ramps up its plans for the platform. The Mozilla exec also interesting draws a parallel with the current situation to 1998, when Microsoft faced similar claims from browser company Netscape Communications.
“On ARM chips, Microsoft gives IE (Internet Explorer) access special APIs absolutely necessary for building a modern browser that it won’t give to other browsers so there’s no way another browser can possibly compete with IE in terms of features or performance” explained Mozilla spokesperson, Asa Dotzler.
Google is not overly happy with the issue either and has told CNET that Microsoft’s IE strategy will damage the overall use-experience and security on future Windows RT devices.
“We share the concerns Mozilla has raised regarding the Windows 8 environment restricting user choice and innovation”, said a Google spokesperson, in a statement 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.”
Of course, all this chatter conveniently ignores the fact that Microsoft is primarily copying the moves made by Apple, when it launched the iPad. Apple’s tablet, even to this day, blocks third-party browsers, and forces customers to use its Safari browser instead.