Microsoft returning Windows to ‘the digital dark ages’?

The biggest lawsuit in Microsoft’s history dominated the 90s, when the  company battled accusations that it was stifling browser competition. Rival  Netscape couldn’t survive, but the Windows giant was ultimately forced to strip  Internet Explorer from its operating system in a landmark ruling.

That conflict may be brewing up again.

Mozilla, the developer group behind the popular Firefox browser, argued  Wednesday night that Firefox is being banned from certain versions of Windows 8,  the forthcoming tablet-centric OS from Microsoft — returning Windows users to  the dark ages before competition.

“The upcoming release of Windows … and Microsoft’s browser practices  regarding Windows 8 Metro signal an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages  where users and developers didn’t have browser choices,” wrote Harvey Anderson,  Mozilla general counsel, in a  Wednesday night blog post.

A Microsoft spokesman declined requests for more information. But  the competition had plenty to say.

Anderson argued that Windows 8 RT — a version of the Windows OS rewritten  from the ground up to support the ARM processors powering nearly every tablet  and smartphone today —  prohibits any browser but Internet Explorer from  running the classic Windows desktop.

“This means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the  advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed,  stability, and security to which users have grown accustomed.”

“Given that IE can run in Windows on ARM, there is no technical reason to  conclude other browsers can’t do the same,” Anderson wrote.

His words were emphatically echoed by Google, maker of the Chrome  browser.

“We share the concerns Mozilla has raised regarding the Windows 8 environment  restricting user choice and innovation,” a Google spokeswoman told “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.”

The issue is how the application is written. Some Windows apps rely on the  powerful Win32 APIs Microsoft has built for programmers, apps like Adobe  Photoshop and Microsoft Word. They won’t run on ARM-powered Windows devices  (basically any Windows tablets).

Those APIs are necessary for modern browsers, argued  Mozilla spokesman Asa Dotzler — and only Internet Explorer will have  access.

“Without that access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with  IE,” he wrote.

Windows on ARM, or Windows 8 RT, is clearly planned for tablets, and the  forthcoming OS has been redesigned to support such devices, with a brand new  touch interface called Metro. Anderson said he worries about the larger  market.

“The forecast suggests ARM [chips] will move into traditional PCs and  laptops,” he told ARM chips are already in servers, he  noted.

“Our concern is that, as ARM transitions into traditional PC and laptops, we  could end up in a place where because it’s Windows RT, there’s no browser  choice.”


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