Windows RT browser restriction sparks Senate Committee probe

Summary:A U.S. Senate committee could start an antitrust investigation against Microsoft, after the Redmond software giant said Internet Explorer 10 would be the only desktop browser in its upcoming tablet operating system.

Microsoft's move to prevent major browsers from reaching the Windows RT desktop has resulted in a fierce war of words from its browser rivals, including Mozilla and Google.

In what will likely come as a further headache for Microsoft, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to look at the allegations that Microsoft's decision may once again lead it down the antitrust path.

Aide to the Chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), confirmed there were plans to look into Mozilla's claim that Microsoft has engaged in anti-competitive behaviour.

Windows RT shares the same user interface and as its Windows 8 counterpart, but only a handful of hand-picked applications will run in Windows RT's desktop environment, including an ARM-compatible version of Office. Most applications will be reserved for the Metro-designed Start screen.

This means while Mozilla and Google can develop Metro-designed applications for the Start screen, it will not be allowed to port it to the desktop behind the scenes.

Mozilla publicly denounced the plans, while Google added its weight to the argument to sister site CNET.

Microsoft's move will leave Internet Explorer 10 without competition on Windows RT. Mozilla and Google said it will  continue their browser development for non-tablet versions of Windows 8.

Microsoft has nearly zero share in the tablet market and is pinning its bets on Windows RT to take on the likes of Google's Android and Apple's iPad. But Microsoft could still be served with an antitrust suit despite its minute share in the tablet space.

An antitrust suit does not have to stem from a monopoly in a market; a case can be brought even if a minority player stifled competition.

The move was criticised as anti-competitive as it would push out the two major rivals in favour of Internet Explorer, which still commands an albeit declining 53 percent majority over Firefox and Chrome, according to Net Applications.

Both Chrome and Firefox worldwide usage continues to rise, but is hampered by many business and enterprise users sticking with aging Windows XP with Internet Explorer preinstalled.

Related:

Topics: Browser, Enterprise Software, Security, Windows

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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