Windows RT browser restriction sparks Senate Committee probe

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.

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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.

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Topics: Browser, Enterprise Software, Security, Windows

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94 comments
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  • Then the Senate should take on Apple too

    It's only fair. Oh I forgot, Apple can do no wrong.

    Why are they so adamant on building non touch optimized apps for Windows on ARM?
    DreyerSmit
    • Apple and Google have not prevented others from creating software

      It is a different matter that Microsoft never developed anything for iOS or Android, Apple and Google do not prevent others from creating software for their tablets, including browsers. Apple does restrict what compilers to use and what tools to us; they don't allow any VMs (.NET or Java) and they expect you to develop using web kit. Google has never prevented others from developing whatever they wanted. Microsoft does not even allow anybody else to develop a browser, so they cannot point fingers at Apple or Google.
      GoForTheBest
      • Apple restricts other browser in a way

        They force them to use webkit, but why would I want Firefox if it does not use Gecko? Why would I want IE (assuming they would make an iOS browser) if it does not come with Trident?

        That is in my view a restriction. They all become Safari skins as they are forced to use the same engine and also are not allowed to use the JIT compiler for javascript (Nitro I think it is called).

        So yes Apple restricts other browsers too.
        lepoete73
      • Neither has Microsoft

        @iRMX,

        [i] ... Apple and Google do not prevent others from creating software for their tablets, including browsers. Apple does restrict what compilers to use and what tools to us ...[/i]

        The same is true for Microsoft on Windows RT. Mozilla et al are free to create Metro styled browsers, and are working on them now. Mozilla et al are simply not free to create browsers for the desktop section of Windows RT, because they can and will likely undermine the user experience and security of devices built with the OS.
        P. Douglas
      • Nonsense

        Rubbish.

        Apple totally resrict browser usage on iOS. It's specifically why Mozilla and Opera haven't released a browser for iOS (except Opera's cut down server-engine based Opera Mini).

        It's also rubbish that you say Microsoft haven't developed anything for iOS or Android. Try looking, their SkyDrive app springs to mind amongst many other examples. OneNote is another example.
        bradavon
      • Not true at all

        [i]Microsoft does not even allow anybody else to develop a browser[/i]

        Anyone can build a browser for Windows RT as long as it uses Trident. Likewise, anyone can build a browser for iOS as long as it uses webkit.

        There is not a single competing browser or javascript engine allowed on iOS. Mozilla built Firefox and submitted it to Apple. Apple rejected it because Mozilla used Gecko and not Webkit. Speaking of monopolies: Apple's webkit has nearly 100% marketshare in the mobile market.
        toddbottom3
      • @toddbottom3

        "Anyone can build a browser for Windows RT". There is no requirement that metro-browsers must use Trident. This is why Mozilla already have a working prototype of a Metro-styled Firefox up and running.

        Apple specifically mandate that apps cannot dynamically generate executable code (i.e. no JavaScript JITting is allowed). This is why there is no Firefox or Chrome for iOS. Opera take a different tack and render your page requests on their servers and send an image of the rendered page to their iOS app.
        bitcrazed
    • ISO and Windows RT are not the same thing.

      ISO is not a product in of itself, Windows RT is. In Apples case the product is the iPhone/iPad and Apple is free to impose restrictions on the software that runs on the iPhone/iPad in the same way Microsoft is free to restrict the software that runs on a Xbox.

      In the case of Windows RT, it could be said that Microsoft is using the dominance of Windows on the desktop to push into new markets, and with IE defaulting to Bing, using said dominance to push its search business, which could be seen as anticompetitive.
      SaxonXXX
      • Yes, to some extent.

        One (Apple's iOS) is already available, and has had the same lockdown restrictions on it for a couple of years now...yet not even a whisper of a hint of antitrust legislation.

        The other (Windows RT) [b]isn't even available yet on the market[/b], so [b]not a single customer has even paid for the software[/b], let alone a device that came with it preloaded...yet they're talking about an anti-trust investigation.
        spdragoo@...
      • What about Chrome OS...

        Sorry but your argument fails when you consider Google's Chrome OS installed on a Chromebook. From your logic, we can also consider chromeOS not a product in itself like Windows RT, so for Google to prevent other browsers in Chromebook this should also amount to anticompetitive behavior no?
        oidele
    • This is Google's money at work

      They're in the big leagues now
      William Farrel
    • Something smells fishy..

      Apple has been doing this for years...where's the hearing for them? This is Google's attempt to thwart RT before it takes off. Android has been a failure on the tablet side so they must fear RT's potential.
      Rob.sharp
      • Apple Makes their own Hardware!

        Just as MS makes the x-box, and determines what runs on it. How can you tech minded people, not understand something this easy. If MS starts making their own hardware, then there won't be an issue!!!

        Sheesh..... :-(
        T-Wrench
    • Nothing to do with touch

      The problem is the WinRT vs Win32 APIs. According to Mozilla, it's impossible to change a data segment to a code segment, or do certain kinds of task spawning under WinRT. This was raised as a problem before, and MS eventually conceeded to allowing Win32 API calls from Metro apps on the desktop. So a Win/Metro browser can support modern plugin interfaces and a JIT (just in time compiler, used in all current versions of JavaScript). But what's come out now is that there's still some of Win32 API on ARM systems, but only Microsoft gets to use them. Which means, only MS can deliver a modern JavaScript in implementation. That's critical for any reasonable performance in most any web applications, and all non-trivial HTML apps.

      This isn't simply going to block alternate browsers on ARN systems. This could easily allow Microsoft to give favorable execution characteristics to their Web apps vs. Google's.

      This also runs completely contrary to Microsoft's settlement agreement with the DOJ (and probably separate agreements with European regulators) in which they agreed that all APIs used by Microsoft would be documented and available to all other developers.
      Hazydave
      • That agreement doesn't apply

        The anti-trust agencies were [b]forced[/b] to limit the market to "x86 compatible OSs sold to OEMs" or they would all have lost their cases. MS doesn't have anything close to a monopoly in the wider market of computer OSs.

        Since Windows RT is not an x86 compatible OS sold to OEMs, MS can legally do this. Not everything that is legal is moral but here, MS has the moral high ground as well. After all, Google has their Chrome OS and Apple has their iOS where applications written by the OS creator have access to far more APIs than 3rd party application authors do.

        If Google and Mozilla want to offer a browser on Windows RT, they can do what everyone does on iOS: either offer a browser shell around the built in HTML and javascript engines or implement server side rendering.

        The irony should not be lost on anyone that MS is being accused of harming competition by not allowing Google and Mozilla to install rendering engines on an OS with 0% marketshare (Windows RT) and are instead forcing Google and Mozilla to not be allowed to install rendering engines on an OS that has 95%+ marketshare (iOS).
        toddbottom3
      • Once you are convicted criminal

        You are watched more closely by everyone.

        It's stupid move by Microsoft to even attempt such tricks.
        danbi
    • If Apple was engaging in the same type

      Of practice, they would be investigated. It seems the only company doing this is Microsoft, it was only a matter of time brfore Microsoft started engaging in this type of behavoir again...
      Jumpin Jack Flash
      • True, which is why this won't get far

        [i]Of practice, they would be investigated.[/i]

        The investigation will quickly conclude that this is standard practice by the current tablet OS monopoly and no further actions will take place.

        However, anti-trust agencies are currently suing Apple for colluding to fix eBook prices. That one is much further along. Great news that consumers will finally get some protection from companies like Apple.
        toddbottom3
    • bla bla bla

      What are you babbling about fool, its a discussing on monopoly and Microsoft coming Windows 8. Stop spouting republican blame everyone else rhetorics.
      Kiljoy616
  • Evolve !

    microsoft must go the path of apple or linux we all know it won't be linux , but they must evolve .
    defraged