Mozilla: Windows 8 a ‘Return to the Digital Dark Ages’
Mozilla is crying foul at Microsoft’s coming Windows 8, which will limit what third-party applications like Firefox can do on future Windows devices. The limitations in the coming Windows RT — Microsoft’s name for the flavor of Windows 8 specifically tailored to tablet-friendly ARM chips — mean that on ARM-based devices Microsoft’s Internet Explorer will enjoy privileged access not granted to other web browsers.
In a post on the Mozilla blog, Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s General Counsel, says that Windows RT’s restrictions signal “an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages.”
While Mozilla is already hard at work on a version of Firefox for Windows 8 on traditional PCs, Microsoft’s restrictions mean that there will be no similar version of Firefox for the new Windows RT.
The crux of Mozilla’s gripe is that in Windows RT Microsoft gives its own Internet Explorer access to special APIs other web browsers can’t use. The result, according to Mozilla’s Asa Dotzler, is that “there’s no way another browser can possibly compete with IE in terms of features or performance.”
Mozilla believes this represents the same abuse of monopoly power Microsoft used to sideline Netscape in the early days of the web. The special API access for Internet Explorer in Windows RT “restricts user choice, reduces competition and chills innovation,” writes Anderson.
Dotzler points out that at least part of what makes this different than Apple’s iOS — which imposes similar restrictions on software and prevents Firefox from running on iOS — is that Microsoft still has binding agreements with the EU about browser choice on Windows, and Windows RT is still Windows.
The new restrictions, writes Dotzler, “are in direct violation of the promises [Microsoft] made to developers, users, and OEMs about browser choice.” So, while Microsoft may be aping Apple with these new application limitations, Apple has the advantage of not needing to worry about past anti-trust agreements.
Furthermore, argues Dotzler, while Windows RT may be aimed at tablets at the moment (an area where Microsoft is currently nowhere near having monopoly power), Microsoft’s long-term goal is for Windows RT and ARM devices to include servers and laptops as well. That would mean that if Microsoft succeeds and ARM chips are running Windows RT on laptops, tablets, phones and toasters near you, there would be only one browser available on any of them — Internet Explorer.
It’s unclear what Mozilla and other potential competitors plan to do about the restrictions in Windows RT. Anderson concludes his post writing simply, “we encourage Microsoft to remain firm on its user choice principles and reject the temptation to pursue a closed path.” Since Windows RT hasn’t yet been released there’s still time for Microsoft to change its mind and lift the current restrictions. For now at least Mozilla seems willing to wait on Microsoft’s next move. If Microsoft doesn’t change course the fact that Mozilla’s complaint was penned by its top lawyer may give some hint of where this fight is headed.