Windows RT was the oddity of the pack when Microsoft announced the different versions of Windows 8 last month. For those just catching up, it’s a version of Windows 8 built just for mobile, specifically ARM-based platforms like tablets. It could also be used in future ARM-based low-power PCs. This new version of Windows has Mozilla and Google concerned for their own browsers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Mozilla has come out against Microsoft and Windows RT on claims that Microsoft is restricting user choice when it comes to Web browsers. It’s been known for a while that Mozilla is working on a Metro-style Firefox browser, but Windows RT is different. They claim that Microsoft doesn’t allow developers to create apps for the platform that operate in a more traditional desktop mode. Any programs designed for Windows RT must only use the new interface that comes with Metro.
That requirement is the cause of Mozilla’s concern. They feel that only Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer will be allowed on the platform as far as Web browsing is concerned. They fear a future of ARM-based tablets and PCs that only have one Web browser. While the new touch version of Internet Explorer is pretty nice, Mozilla has a right to be concerned.
Asa Dotzler recently penned a blog post that sums up the problems Mozilla has with this new policy from Microsoft:
For Windows on X86, Microsoft is giving other browsers basically the same privileges it gives IE. It’s not great that you don’t get those privileges (certain API access) unless you’re the default browser and I think that’s deeply unfair (a post for later,) but at least we’re able to build a competitive browser and ship it to Windows users on x86 chips.
But on ARM chips, Microsoft gives IE 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.
Dotzler further elaborated on this point saying that this isn’t just about tablets. They fear for the future of the PC since ARM is quickly becoming a major competitor to Intel based PCs. They’re cheaper and more power efficient. For the average PC user, an ARM processor presents a PC experience at half the cost of an Intel-based machine. If Microsoft’s policy still stands on these PCs, that will leave browsers like Firefox and Chrome operating only on Intel or AMD-based machines.
Fortunately, Mozilla is not the only one in this fight. Google also came out against Microsoft’s policy. Speaking to CNET, the company said that Windows 8 restricts “user choice and innovation.” They feel that “having great competitors makes us all work harder” and that “consumers and developers benefit the most from robust competition.”
Many people saw Windows 8 and Metro as an attempt from Microsoft to get back some of the market they have lost to Apple. This latest revelation makes it seem they’re taking more pages out of the book of Apple by controlling what developers can and can not do with the platform.
We’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment and will update this story if we hear back.
Do you think Microsoft should let Mozilla and Google create native apps on Windows RT? Or does Microsoft have the right to push their own software over competitors on their own platform? Let us know in the comments.