When is a version of Windows not Windows?

When is a version of Windows not Windows?

Summary: Mozilla and Google are just now complaining about Microsoft's design decisions with Windows RT. But Microsoft's response seems a bit flimsy.


Mozilla and Google are complaining that Microsoft is going to bar versions of their browsers from running on the Desktop on Windows RT.

Microsoft isn't disputing this fact. The Windows brass have made it known for months that Microsoft planned to limit the Desktop in Windows RT -- the product formerly known as Windows on ARM (WOA) -- to run only Microsoft software, including four Microsoft Office apps, Internet Explorer 10 and a few other system components.

But what Microsoft is disputing here is rather odd. News.com is reporting that Microsoft Deputy General Counsel David Heiner told Mozilla that Windows RT "isn't Windows anymore" (according to Mozilla). Huh. Microsoft, you lost me there.

The name of the product in question is Windows RT. One might expect a product named Windows included at least enough of the Windows components to constitute it being named "Windows"-something. Windows Compact Embedded, Windows Embedded Standard, Windows Server, Windows Phone, Windows Embedded Automotive -- would Microsoft also claim these aren't "real" Windows? They aren't identical to Windows client, but they do share common components with it.

If you go back and read Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky's comments about Windows RT, he made it quite clear that while Windows RT was not identical to Windows 8, it includes quite a bit of shared Windows 8 code. In an interview with TechRadar in February of this year, he called Windows RT "a new member of the Windows family."

What is Windows these days? Is it just a brand? No. It's still an operating system. But it's an operating system has evolved considerably over the past 27 years since Windows 1.0 hit the market.

By the time Microsoft developers were building Windows Vista, Microsoft's own admitted that Windows had become a mess of code with too many interdependencies. That's what the "MinWin" project at Microsoft was all about: Untangling the Windows mess into a bunch of smaller pieces that could be recomposed for different environments..

The Softies seem to have moved beyond the MinWin name and mission, but they're still following the same general course. Microsoft teams building any kind of Windows operating system can pick and choose the pieces of Windows they need for different platforms. Some teams use more of the pieces than others. The coming Windows Phone 8 operating system, for example, is going to use a few of the "core" pieces of Windows -- the kernel, networking stack, security components and multimedia elements.

And what about Windows RT? It is another Windows SKU built using many of the elements of Windows Core. Windows RT does include various optimizations and removal of older/unnecessary features to reduce its install size on the smaller hard drives that are going to common on ARM devices, but it's still Windows.

I agree with my ZDNet colleague Ed Bott that the chances that Microsoft is suddenly going to allow Firefox or Chrome to run on the Desktop in Windows RT are close to zero. (And as Bott also notes, given Microsoft's tiny market share in tablets, it would be tough for either complaining party to find much of an antitrust leg to stand on here.)

Windows RT is more like Windows Embedded Compact, or even iOS on the iPad, than it's like Windows 8. It is optimized for performance and power and isn't designed to be replaced, dual booted,etc.  But the truth is, it's still Windows...

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • turnabout

    Why didn't Mozilla and Google ask iPad for the same privilege in the ipad?
    Why doesn't Goole allow API access to YouTube from Windows Phone?
  • the DOJ must step in

    and enforce the EC decree for a browser pick screen!
    The Linux Geek
    • It's not up to the DOJ

      to enforce foreign law.
      Michael Kelly
    • No

      Only when they do the same thing on my iPad.

      And FYI you still get to pick a browser on Win RT (just like the iPad), it is the desktop component that is going to be unavailable to other browsers (similar to Safari on the iPad). But considering IE 10 only has limited "desktop" access I can't understand why this is a problem.

      Microsoft is a monopoly on these types of devices, Microsoft is just entering this market and you want to limit their ability to compete?
  • Well, Windows RT is not an "Intel compatible PC operating system"

    Which is what Microsfot was found to have held a monopoly in (ref: Judge Jackson's finding of facts). MSFT is extremely constrained on what they do with their x86 and x64 versions of Windows. They are likely much less constrained on ARM (where there is no way that they could be found to be having a monopoly in that space!)

    It's interesting that Judge Jackson found that there was a "high barrier" to entry in that market, and then, very soon afterwards, Apple moved away from PowerPC and because a viable competitor in the Intel compatible space. Perhaps his findings weren't "fact" afterall :-)
    • but what is Windows

      Back at the time of MSFT's antitrust conviction there were versions of Windows NT4 for DEC Alpha and MIPS RISC chips in addition to Intel x86. Were the Alpha and MIPS versions not Windows?

      That's the big question. Also a big question whether the EU will consider Windows ARM tablets to be outside the scope of their settlement with MSFT which requires providing browser choice on new PCs. If they do, I don't see how MSFT sells Windows ARM tablets in Europe.
      • ARM tablets aren't PCs?

        This is the question. If the definition is that ARM-based tablets are seen as devices, and not PCs, the settlement won't apply here.
      • It was a different market, so a different product

        The market in the US v Microsoft case was defined as operating systems for x86 (Intel-compatible) PCs. Windows NT on Mips, Alpha and PowerPC would therefore not have been included the relevant market. On Risc systems, Microsoft???s position was clearly not dominant.

        The Risc market was largely irrelevant anyway, because by the time the case was settled, all of the non-x86 ports of Windows NT had been cancelled. Windows 2000 (NT 5.0) only ran on x86.

        In both the EU and US, competition cases always include a careful market definition. It is highly improbable that competition authorities in either would view Windows RT on tablets as being part of the same market as Windows 8 on PCs, rather than the same market as the iPad and Android tablets. If they did, they would have to include Android tablets, iPads and possibly even mobile phones running iOS and Android in the same market as Windows tablets, phones and PCs. This would greatly reduce the likelihood of Microsoft???s position being found to be dominant at all.
  • Microsoft Arrogance or Stupidity

    if Microsoft thinks that limiting Apps on a tablet or smartphone is going to win market share, they are seriously mistaken. This really sounds like another myopic decision that smacks of the smart folks at MS kowtowing to their butt-kissing managers. Just my opinion though as a technology user and continuing skeptic of all things closed.
    • It seems to be working for Apple

      They own the tablet market, or as some people call it the iPad market, and you won't find a more restrictive market when it comes to browsers. A majority of the browsers in the market are just safari+.

      And not many people have a problem with that.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • I'm not sure but most of the iPad browsers, if not all, are Webkit based

        Safari is based upon Webkit. So is Google Chrome. I'm not sure about Opera, however. Anyway, there are quite a few browsers that the iPad user can choose from. And, quite a few search engines to choose from as well. I personally use Bing as my default search engine in my mobile Safari app.
      • Opera for the iPad isn't a real browser

        The way that it complies with the Apple iOS design restrictions is that it works around the webkit engine. There is no opera browser engine inside of it, it simply loads all of the data on their servers and then down to your device.

        There are a couple of exceptions, but the majority of them are following the ruling of "use the engine on the tablet that we provided". I don't really see a problem with that, I was simply stating that it isn't as clear as some might assume.

        When it comes to browsers, a majority will just stick with what they're given anyway. This goes double for tablets.
        Michael Alan Goff
    • Apple has proved that consumers don't give a damn!

      They don't care what browser as long as they get things done. Its only the the technical community complaining about open-ness, pre-installed browser, level field, etc. Consumers don't care. These companies (Mozilla/Google) need to stop pretending that they are doing any favor to consumers. Consumers are smart, they know what eco-system they want to get into - Android, iOS or Windows. Mozilla is no more relevant - its market share is diminishing - it became popular because IE-6 of the time was slow. Being antagonistic to closed eco-system is plain stupid - the iPad has proved that consumers don't care. It is also hypocritical of Mozilla - they ban plugins that don't play by their rules. WinRT is Microsoft's eco-system and if they want to gaurd their gardens they can. We should let consumers make their own choice.
      • Silly consumers aren't worried about long-term

        Don't complain if one day there are no more choices because competition was starved to extinction by anti-competitive tactics of one or two megatrons. ("But hey, we got low prices in the meantime! Those days are gone now...")
      • That said...

        I don't think whether Windows is always Windows is even the point. The question is whether Microsoft is being anti-competitive here, which is certainly not the case considering their low market share outside of the PC.
      • all ipad "proved" was that there was an untapped market...

        and Apple can market like NON-other. You can't define a whole culture based on the temporary success of one product. Its impossible to cover all needs with one product. The more needs you cover by adding more features the more you miss on the needs for it to be slim and low footprint. Mozilla is very relevant and will be for a while. Even though I don't use a mozilla based browser, its important for some people to have a browser they don't feel is connected to a large company (more now than ever with this whole "Occupy" trend.)

        I do agree tho... they should have the right to sculpt there own products how they see fit and let the customers choose. The questionable decision that microsoft was a monopoly has long since rusted out. God bless OS competition!
      • Own choice = Not giving a damn = Herd mentality

        "We should let consumers make their own choice." Own choice = Herd mentality = Consumers don't give a damn except appearing fashionable.
  • I hope they dont allow Goog or FF any access..

    Nice post which makes clear what WinRT is. I like to describe it as a separate product based on user experience. Windws is basically now a marketing brand to unify MSFT product. All product seem to have same genesis but they go their different way, as pointed out.
    And I hope to God that MSFT does not allow Google or Firefox and access to Win32 API. By now it is pretty much proven that quality user experience is closely related to the control one exerts on it.

    I got the Lumia 900 and I might have restarted it just once since day 1. My friend at dog park got the Motorola Droid Razr . I asked him if he had to restart the phone and he said twice weekly.
  • I don't get it

    What do Google and Mozilla have to hide in their code if they can't accomplish the simple task of building a web browser on WinRT libraries? Did they complain about Safari's use of internal API's and dedicated hardware acceleration on iOS? No! They just didn't make their browser for the platform. They just STFU and went home. Boo hoo!

    Mozilla is a has-been. Even on the (arguably) largest mobile OS, Android, Firefox gets more 1-star ratings than they do 3 or 2-star ratings. The bleeding Dolphin browser (I know, I know - I hadn't heard of it either) has 8.5 TIMES more reviews than Firefox, and gets an average rating of 4.7/5 compared to Firefox's 3.6.

    BTW: What ever happened to Mozilla getting into the mobile OS space?
  • When is a version of Windows not Windows?

    Maybe Microsoft is just using the Windows brand name for Window RT. Mozilla should not stop making the browser for Windows 8, even if it is a bit hobbled. I love Firefox on the desktop but Mozilla's efforts of mobile browsers leave a bit to be desired.
    Loverock Davidson-