Mozilla - Microsoft Is Blocking Browser Choice - Again!
Written by Ian Elliot
Thursday, 10 May 2012
Not long ago, Microsoft got into a lot of trouble for bundling IE with Windows and not allowing other browsers a fair playing field. Now in Windows RT it has gone one step further in disallowing any other browsers. In fact it has more or less banned any other applications!
The situation is very simple, but it is difficult to work out what is going on because of the number of environments that Windows now supports.
Windows 8 on Intel hardware offers the desktop and WinRT/Metro. You are free to write what you like for either environment and Mozilla is hard at work creating a WinRT/Metro browser. There are some restrictions in that WInRT/Metro apps have to be installed from the Microsoft app store and there can only be one default browser running in a special mode but this amounts to only a minor difficulty.
Now we come to Windows RT, i.e. Windows 8 running on ARM hardware. In this configuration there is still WinRT/Metro but there is no desktop. What there is amounts to a sort of hacked-together simulated classic desktop that supports some of the API. Microsoft has made version of Office and IE for this environment but won't share the API with other programmers.
In addition there is a special mode for WinRT/Metro apps, which lets them access some parts of the Win32 API - MetroTop, a sort of cross between Metro and Desktop.. This is what Metro Firefox is using on Intel hardware to allow it to do a complete job of being a browser.
However, under Windows RT there probably isn't a well- organized Win32 API and so this special mode doesn't exist. This restricts Metro Firefox to runing in a limited mode under Windows RT. Put simply, the only browser that has access to anything like the old Win32 API in any mode under Windows RT is IE, along with other Microsoft apps.
This has all been clear for a while and I Programmer commented on the problem back in February, but now it seems that Mozilla has made no progress getting Microsoft to supply the API details.
To quote the Mozilla blog:
"We encourage Microsoft to remain firm on its user choice principles. Excluding 3rd party browsers contradicts Microsoft’s own published Principles that users and developers have relied upon for years. These principles represented a Microsoft market approach that was both notable and went above and beyond their DOJ antitrust settlement obligations."
Mozilla also note that not to give up the API might cause problems for Microsoft:
"Because Windows on ARM relies upon so many traditional Windows assets, including brand, code, footprint, and experience, the decision to exclude other browsers may also have antitrust implications. 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 behavior theDOJ-Microsoft settlement sought to prohibit."
As things stand at the moment, the situation is far worse than the picture that Mozilla paints. It isn't just browsers that are unable to run under Windows RT classic. It seems that a port of LibreOffice, say, to compete against Microsoft Office on Windows RT would also be next to impossible.
It could be that Microsoft intends to restrict the market, or it could be that Microsoft is so ashamed of the mess it has made of the "Classic" desktop that it has decided not to inflict it on the general programmer.
Currently the Windows RT classic desktop environment is open only to Microsoft.