Ronnie05's Blog

Windows ARM Tablets limit Browser to IE: Return to the digital dark ages

Posted in Applications and User Interfaces, Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on May 13, 2012

Microsoft is well known as a competition-killer as it tries to kill competition by various means. After ending the legion of Netscape years ago, Microsoft is returning to “digital dark ages” by blocking browser choice on ARM version of Windows 8, dubbed Windows RT.

Mozilla and Google have accused Microsoft of banning third party browser from Windows 8 on ARM. There will have standard browser support in desktop edition of Windows 8, but the ARM version will be restricted to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer only. Mozilla is already working on a Metro-styled version of its Firefox browser and this decision is a huge blow to Mozilla’s plans.

“Unfortunately, the upcoming release of Windows for the ARM processor architecture 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,” … Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s General Counsel

Microsoft is under fire from both Mozilla and Google. Mozilla accuses Microsoft of violation the browser choice rules set by European Commission (EC). Mozilla also reported in the post that Windows RT will have two environments – a Windows Classic environment and a Metro environment for apps.

In practice, 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

Meanwhile, Chrome-makers Google also verified the issue. Like Mozilla, Google is also planning to launch Metro version of Chrome browser.

Google has also shared similar concerns regarding the Windows 8 environment restricting user choice and innovation. By locking the browser choice, Microsoft is limiting innovation in the browser space across all platforms.

Google and Mozilla accuse Microsoft of anti-competitive practice with the ARM-based version of Windows 8. The exclusion of browser choice is going to affect tablet users and if the problem is not handled, PC users may also enter a similar fate in future. Looking at declining market share of IE, Microsoft is planning to block competitors like Firefox, Opera and Chrome from Windows 8, but the decision will raise antitrust concerns.

Microsoft claims that it needs to restrict access to the desktop for security and performance reasons, and that’s why only a few apps get access to it, notably IE and Microsoft Office.

Thats a bit of unfair reasoning that Microsoft has put up there. After all, on Windows 8 for PCs, other apps are allowed to run on the desktop. It may be true that Windows RT hardware will be more susceptible to performance slow-downs than traditional Windows hardware, because RT hardware will generally have slower processors and less RAM. That won’t always be the case, though, because Windows 8 will run on netbooks, which typically have low-end hardware.

Another question that needs to be asked is Whether banning Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers from the RT desktop will make a difference to browser market share? AT the current rate, not many give much of a chance that Windows 8 tablets to make significant headway against iPads and Android tablets. And of the people who do use Windows tablets, only a very small percentage would likely switch their default browser, even if they had a choice. So in terms of market share, not allowing Firefox and Chrome on the desktop will barely register as a blip.

As for user choice, it would certainly be better if Windows 8 tablet buyers had more than one realistic option in browsers. But limiting browser choice is likely to hurt Microsoft more than help it.



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