Windows RT may breach Microsoft-EU 'browser ballot' deal

Windows RT may breach Microsoft-EU 'browser ballot' deal

Summary: The European Commission is keeping its eye on Microsoft, after a U.S. Senate subcommittee said it would investigate potential antitrust matters relating to Windows on ARM browsers.

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Microsoft's plan to restrict desktop-running third-party browsers, such as Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome, on its forthcoming operating system may fall foul of a settlement reached between the software giant and the European regulators.

The European Commission said it will remain "vigilant" to Microsoft's competition commitments in the browser space, but admitted it wasn't sure whether the tablet edition of Windows 8 fell actually fell within the scope of the agreement, according to IDG.

Europe is scratching its head: the agreement applies only to "client PCs," but is nobody is quite sure whether it applies to tablets or not.

Mozilla blew the whistle on the browser ballot case in a May 9 company blog post. Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson said:

"If Windows on ARM is simply another version of Windows on new hardware, it also runs afoul of the EC browser choice commitments and seems to represent the very behavior the DOJ-Microsoft settlement sought to prohibit."

Windows has always shipped with a version of Internet Explorer. But it was forced to open its doors to competing browsers after it fell foul of European antitrust laws.

In 2010, Microsoft issued an update to European users of Windows that presented a 'browser ballot' screen, after the company was found to have abused its dominant market position by bundling Internet Explorer in with the operating system.

The ballot screen allows users to pick a browser away from the default-set Internet Explorer. The top ten browsers in market share, including Internet Explorer itself, are on the list though randomised to prevent favouring one over the other.

Microsoft settled in the antitrust investigation and avoided facing fines of up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover. The deal, which used non-specific "Windows" and "Internet Explorer" terms to account for future versions, is set to expire in 2014, giving adequate time for rival browsers to gain traction and compete fairly on the browser market.

Microsoft's decision to restrict Internet Explorer 10 to Windows RT sparked the furore.

A Senate committee has already raised its eyebrows at the move, which would see all browsers bar Internet Explorer 10 running in Metro mode rather than on the behind-the-scenes desktop mode.

Windows RT, also known as 'Windows 8 on ARM', will only allow Chrome, Firefox, and others to run in Metro, which offers a vastly slimmed-down experience. Only certain hand-picked applications will be able to run in Windows RT's desktop mode, such as the next version of Office.

Sources told sister site CNET that only a "handful of Windows RT devices" will appear at first, as Microsoft tests the water with its new tablet venture. Microsoft may have centered Windows 7 on touch devices, but this is the first time it has dedicated a whole Windows edition to tablets.

But an antitrust suit does not have to stem from a monopoly in a market. A case can still be brought even if a minority player stifled competition in some way. A case could be made that Microsoft is using its monopoly on Windows to keep Internet Explorer in the top-spot in browser market share rankings as it faces stiff competition from both Firefox and Chrome.

If European authorities find Windows RT is in effect "another version of Windows", Microsoft could face a heavy rebuke and see a massive fine land in its lap. On the other hand, Microsoft may not be out of the crosshairs yet as it could face a separate inquiry altogether.

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Topics: Browser, Government, Government UK, Microsoft

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38 comments
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  • How you define the market is important

    No reasonable judge is going to agree to a market of only Windows RT devices - which as of now, is non-existent. If the market is defined as Windows based devices, the restrictions will have negligible impact on Mozilla et al. If the market is alternately defined as the tablet market, or the ARM device market, the restrictions will also have negligible impact on Mozilla et al. Also MS has clearly made the case that the restrictions have to do with establishing and maintaining great user experiences, battery life, and security for users - not promoting IE 10. This is much ado about nothing.
    P. Douglas
    • Read your history

      European courts tend to be protectionist in nature. Microsoft had to sell a version of Windows specifically to the European market years ago. It has less to do with protecting competition and more to do with protecting European interests.
      Your Non Advocate
      • Good advice

        MS was taken to task in many jurisdictions, not just the EU. Unsurprisingly he results were similar, the evidence overwhelming.

        MS has always defended their actions as benefiting their users. Thankfully this excuse hasn't been believed, today's IT market thrived when the shackle was removed.
        Richard Flude
    • Market size is irrelevant

      An criminal remains an criminal for the rest of their life. Microsoft was convicted already and what market share they claim is irrelevant.
      danbi
  • Whats really interesting is...

    It's not okay for microsoft to do something like this but it's totally allowed for apple to do it.

    Here is where I have the problem. Years ago, MS was sued for windows media player and IE being bundled into the OS. European consumers wanted a choice. As if they couldn't stand the 15 minutes of IE to download what they want... Yet here we are, years later and MS is still the only one under fire. What if I said I don't want iTunes and Safari on my hackintosh? What if I said I want Chrome on my idevice?

    Now we are making a big deal about windows RT not running someone else's browser. So let's ask another question then. Why can I not have chrome on IOS? I have it for ubuntu and OSX. Why not IOS? Do the same principals not apply to apple as they do other companies? Is it an ARM thing? After all, idevices and winRT run on arm.
    Nate_K
    • Read your history.

      Microsoft's domination in the OS market led to its being considered a monopoly. Nothing wrong or illegal about monopolies, but if you have one, you have to tread lightly.

      If you remember, back in the day browsers weren't free. I bought Netscape for something like $79. Microsoft used their monopoly to drive Netscape out of business (this was shown in internal emails that that was Microsoft's intention) by giving the browser away for free. That's where they ran into legal trouble.

      Personally, I don't understand why browsers would attract legal attention anymore. They're all free now.
      msalzberg
      • Why?

        "Personally, I don't understand why browsers would attract legal attention anymore. They're all free now. "

        Advertising revenue. The default search engine and advertising in each browser nets huge dollars for whomever is the holder of the default browser search engine.
        PollyProteus
      • Ahem!!

        There is no history of Windows Rt on Arm devices. If I'm wrong, please be so kind as to point me to such history????
        eargasm
    • Apple hasn't been brought up on antitrust charges - MS have.

      ..and as a result, MS are going to be held to a different standard than Apple.

      Now, currently Apple has a "first mover" position in tablets, and a strong, but not monopolistic position in smartphones. Microsoft, on the other hand, was found to have a monopoly on the PC market when they were brought up on antitrust.

      If Apple can be found to be competing unfairly with a strong market position, they, too, would face this scrutiny. Unfortunately, a lot of people will have to complain before this happens. And right now, not enough people are complaining.
      daftkey
      • Don't compare Apples to Oranges

        Apple is an Personal Computer maker. Microsoft is not. Apple builds and markets their own computers. It is their choice to install whatever software they decide to make their Personal Computer useful and competitive. Trust me, if Windows could make Apple computers competitive, Apple would install it in there by default.

        In contrast, Microsoft does not make any computers. They build and sell piece of software kit. Someone else build computers with that software kit and some hardware kit etc. The wrong that Microsoft is doing is to prevent their customers (they calls them OEMs) from installing different software on the computer they are building. They may want to install Firefox, in order to be competitive on the Personal Computer market. Or they might want to install Safari, or whatever. It should be vendor's choice, don't you think?
        danbi
    • Not interesting at all

      [i]It's not okay for microsoft to do something like this but it's totally allowed for apple to do it.[/i]

      It's called [b]market-share[/b] and when one decides to become as ubiquitous monopoly as Microsoft has, then one has to adhere to different standards. And if I'm not mistaken Apple has an even smaller share of the marketplace in Europe than over in the U.S.

      You wanna control 90% of the world's desktops, then this is the price to pay.
      ScorpioBlack
      • problem is

        We're not talking about the desktop anymore. MS has less than 5% of the mobile market.
        Yax_to_the_Max
      • So...

        tablets = death of the PC yet having a monopoly on the PC market equates to illegal advantages in the tablet space? I'm really having a hard time following your logic on this one. Other than the typical "I hate MS, rah rah rah" nonsense you like to dispense.
        LiquidLearner
      • It is definitely about market share .... and unfair advantage

        This entire thing is NOT ABOUT THE DESKTOP. WinRT runs on tablets only, just like iOS. But browser choice is an issue for a company that currently has 0% market share in tablets, but it is not an issue for a company that has 90%+ market share in the same arena.

        As long as Apple is not taken to task on this issue, Microsoft should not either.
        ultimitloozer
      • Whoa!

        We are not talking about a normal desktop here???? The case you site cannot apply to Windows Rt because it did not exist at the time!
        eargasm
      • I would say it differently

        "You wanna control 90% of the world's desktops, then this is the price to pay."


        Especially, when you build no computers and abuse your partners to dominate the market and eliminate any competition.

        @ ultimitloozer

        According to Microsoft, WinRT is the future of all Windows. That presumably includes desktop, mobile and servers.
        danbi
      • So what you're suggesting is that Microsoft.......

        should be forced to allow every other browser to run in desktop mode, even if it destroys security, stability, and performance? People like you should have the sh*t kicked out of them. Microsoft has no presence in tablets. They have 0% market share in tablets. So the old monopoly BS doesn't hold water.
        jhammackHTH
    • Microsoft and Apple do different things

      Apple sells an personal computer (desktop, laptop or tablet). They design, build and sell it all: hardware, software and services. Apple is probably the only PC maker left.

      Microsoft on the other hand, makes an software kit, for building a PC. Someone else makes the hardware kit. Sometimes even yet another party is the system builder who engineers and packages the PC (and sells it).

      The victims of Microsoft's anti-competitive practices are those PC vendors. They may wish to install say Firefox, or Safari on the computer, in order to be competitive. But Microsoft makes everything possible they install IE only. This is abusive.

      You do not have Chrome on iOS, because Google hasn't spent the effort to write it! You didn't have Chrome on Google's "very own OS", Android until very recently either!
      danbi
      • Bullshit

        If PC Vendors can't install the browser they want, why is it they actually do exactly that ? Where does all the Crap-Ware come from that is Vendor or Constructor specific or even the sum of the two. The day Microsoft would sell their own Hardware and OS under the same rules than Apple, Windows would suffer much less of that irrational criticism. Even though i am an Apple fan as well as a Windows one and i work on both OS's on a daily basis, i'd be marveled to see Microsoft Hardware and Software together because the problem Windows has been facing for Years with Crap-Ware has already been mentioned many times as being the one and only possible cause of defeat for Android. And Google has responded accordingly, so why shouldn't Microsoft do the same. I's going to be an interesting year ;)
        oxosoft@...
      • Apple doesn't make crap. They don't make hardware.

        They contract the Chinese to make their hardware.
        jhammackHTH