Is Microsoft blocking Chrome and Firefox from native Windows RT a big deal?

Is Microsoft blocking Chrome and Firefox from native Windows RT a big deal?

Summary: Mozilla and Google are both crying foul because Microsoft is restricting Firefox and Chrome from running natively on Windows RT--the only version of Windows 8 that will run on ARM devices.

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On Windows RT, your only real browser choice will be Internet Explorer 10.

On Windows RT, your only real browser choice will be Internet Explorer 10.

Mozilla and Google, makers of the Firefox and Chrome Web browsers, don't have a problem with building new versions of their popular browsers for Windows 8's Metro interface. Firefox for Metro is on its way and so is Chrome. What they both object to though is that Microsoft's own Internet Explorer 10 and its successors will be the only browser that will run natively on Windows RT.

To catch up, Windows RT is the Windows 8 version for ARM-based tablets and, eventually, laptops. Windows RT has two user interfaces: Metro and very restricted Windows 7-style desktop that can only run Microsoft customized applications To be exact, Windows President Steven Sinofsky said that the Desktop experience on Windows on ARM, it will be limited to specially tailored "Office 15" versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote; the Windows File Explorer; Internet Explorer 10 and some operating system tools/components.

No problem though right? You'd still be able to run the Metro style Firefox and Chrome on Windows RT's Metro interface right? Well, not really, not well.

Windows 8 supports three kinds of applications: Metro, classic desktop, and Metro-style enabled desktop browsers (MEDB). Firefox and Chrome are coming out with MEDB versions of their applications for Windows 8. That means they'll "have full access to Win32 APIs for rendering HTML5 (DOCX format), including the ability to use multiple background processes, Just in Time (JIT) compiling, and other distinctly browser-related functionality (like background downloading of files." That's vital because to get a full 21st century Web browser experience you need all that legacy code.

Windows RT, however, doesn't support MEDB. There's also no Win32 in Windows RT Metro for non-Microsoft applications. In Windows on ARM tablets, your choices are pure Metro applications, with limited functionality, or Microsoft's own applications for the classic desktop, which can work with the Win32 application programming interfaces (API).

While Google, Mozilla or anyone else can write a pure Metro application for Windows on ARM they operate in a sandbox without access to the classic Win32 APIs. According to Asa Dotzler, Director of Firefox , "IE on ARM has access to win32 APIs--even when it's running in Metro mode, but no other Metro browser has that same access. Without that access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with IE."

He's pretty much right. This really isn't a surprise. If you'd been following Windows RT on ARM news you already knew it's as closed a system as iOS on Apple iPads. There's nothing remotely open about either one. Windows RT is also a limited subset of Windows. For example, Windows RT doesn't support Active Directory (AD).

Mozilla and Google aren't happy about this. They claim, with reason, that Microsoft is "restricting user choice and innovation." Google, on the other hand, lets you run non-Google browsers on Android such as Firefox and Opera.

What Microsoft is doing is remindful of the way that Microsoft illegally crushed Netscape as other competition. Eventually the Department of Justice ended up giving a Microsoft slap on the wrist in 1998. By dodging being broken up into separate companies, Microsoft was able to continue its domination of the desktop until the present day.

That was then. This is now. While Microsoft has clearly made Windows on ARM a closed shop to all competitors, Microsoft has almost no presence worth speaking of in tablets. It owned the PC world when it slapped down Netscape and other competitors.

Dotzler worries that "ARM (and Windows RT with it) will be migrating to laptop PCs and all-in-one PCs very quickly." ARM might very well become popular, I doubt Windows RT will grow in popularity with it though. Other operating systems, like Ubuntu and Fedora are already up and running on ARM-powered systems.

Windows RT and its restrictions? Sure, it's unfair to Google, Mozilla, Opera, and independent software vendors (ISV)s? Sure it is. But, so what? This is just going to be another reason why Windows 8 Metro will fail. IPads and Android tablets own the marketplace and the ARM tablet and desktop markets are still open for anyone. Let Microsoft release Windows RT with its limited software choices and no support for the vast majority of Windows Win32 applications. Customers and developers will punish Microsoft far more than any judge will.

Related Stories:

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Mozilla shows off a Metro style Firefox prototype for Windows 8

Google joins Windows 8 browser war with plans for Metro Chrome

When is a version of Windows not Windows?

Ubuntu 12.04 vs. Windows 8: Five points of comparison

Topics: Operating Systems, Browser, Microsoft, Processors, Software, Windows

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79 comments
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  • I agree: windoze rt will fail

    but Firefox and chrome still deserve access to the low level apis.
    The Linux Geek
    • @sjvn

      I do wish you would either limit your writing to Linux oriented subjects about which you are informed and competent, or better educate yourself about Windows.

      You utter lack of understanding about Windows and it's architecture leads you to post almost amusingly inaccurate articles like this one.

      Fact: Win32 is still alive and well - even on WindowsRT ARM powered devices. Microsoft has simply made the decision to only allow Metro WinRT apps to run on WindowsRT devices, apart from a specially skinned version of Office which runs atop the Win32 desktop.

      Because Windows On ARM (WOA) is a relatively clean break for Microsoft and since there are no legacy WOA apps to port forward, it makes sense that Microsoft might want to discourage 3rd party ISV's from porting their legacy desktop apps to run on WOA.

      Whatever the situation, you should know by now that Win32 sill lives under WinRT.
      bitcrazed
  • Can anyone explain this to me?

    I don't remember Google or Mozilla complaining about Apple restricting other browsers (technically, other browser engines, nothing stops Google or Mozilla from creating a shell around Webkit on iOS or Trident on Windows RT) but if they did, they clearly failed to get anywhere. Today, you still cannot install Chrome or Firefox on iOS.

    If Google and Mozilla both failed to get the owner of the tablet that holds 95%+ of the tablet market to budge, what makes them think they have a leg to stand on with the owner of the tablet that SJVN assures us, over and over again, will never get more than 0% marketshare?

    Apple had better be praying that this doesn't go anywhere because if MS, with 0% marketshare, can be forced to allow competing browser engines on their tablets, Apple will be next.
    toddbottom3
    • Sure they complained about iOS...

      Mozilla and Opera sure did - opera had to render pages on their servers and send an image to iOS.
      vgrig
    • A different take

      The issue with Mozilla's complaint regarding WinRT is not so much that it's restrictive, it's that MS does not play by the same restrictions as 3rd party developers. According to Mozilla, IE on WinRT has access to Win32 API's that give it a competitive advantage vs 3rd party browsers which don't have equal access to API's that IE on WinRT has.

      As long as MS plays by its own rules and either a) plays by the same restrictions 3rd party developers have to or b) allows 3rd party developers access to all API's that MS has access to then it's fair game.

      On iOS, as restrictive as it is, 3rd party developers generally have access to the same API's Apple in-house app developers do plus the fact that Apple is pretty good at following the rules of its own platform that it sets for 3rd party developers (correct me if I'm wrong).

      As far as not being able to get competing browsers on iOS, currently you can download Opera browser from the iOS App Store. There's nothing yet from Google or Mozilla but that's because they've decided not develop one for iOS.
      smulji
      • Not factually correct

        [i]3rd party developers generally have access to the same API's Apple in-house app developers[/i]

        http://arstechnica.com/apple/2011/06/ios-5-brings-nitro-speed-to-home-screen-web-apps/

        [i]Apple made a special exception for Mobile Safari to enable Nitro JIT compilation. In other words, Safari has special permission to generate code dynamically within protected memory and have that code executed by a device's CPU
        ...
        third-party apps that load webpages in a WebKit view still won't take advantage of Nitro's fast JIT execution.[/i]

        So Apple's Safari app gets privileges that are not given to 3rd party browser shells that use webkit.

        You also have to be careful about what you call an "app". While there are probably very few examples where Apple "apps" are given special treatment, code that has been defined as "iOS" gets special treatment that is not available to 3rd party developers. Since Apple has defined Webkit and Nitro as being part of iOS and has banned any other rendering engine and javascript engine from being used in iOS, it means that competitors like Mozilla and Google, while free to make shells around Apple's webkit and a crippled version of Nitro, are not free to install Gecko or V8. Apple developers, on the other hand, can create and install any rendering engine and javascript engine they choose in iOS. 3rd party developers can't. Since rendering engines and javascript engines are a huge part of what a browser app is, to suggest that Mozilla and Google have to play by the same rules as Apple does isn't true at all.

        Everything I just described up there regarding how iOS works is also how Windows RT works. Mozilla and Google are free to create browser apps that follow the exact same rules that MS apps must follow. It all depends on what you call an "app".
        toddbottom3
      • And that is just the point.....

        @toddbottom3
        Microsoft is NOT following the specs that they want others to follow. (Where has this happened before???)

        MS Office apps and IE will have access to the WinRT desktop, but no other applications can? What is being asked for is competition on the same playing field so that any vendor office application or browser can play by the same rules as MS Office and IE.

        Nothing more, nothing less.
        linux for me
      • You can still skin IE and distribute it as a browser...

        Exactly what you can do in iOS using Safari. Plus, there are millions of apps wrapping the HTML container and same will be true in WinRT.
        samunplugged
    • I just looked, and

      There were no less than a half a dozen different web Browsers you can install on an iPad. Microsoft restricting competing products, is a sign that the corrupt corporate culture is still alive at Microsoft.
      Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Guess you missed this quote

        [i]Google, Mozilla or anyone else can write a pure Metro application for Windows on ARM[/i]

        They certainly can write browser shells which is all those half a dozen different iOS browsers are. 100% of those browsers use either Apple's rendering and javascript engines (since they aren't allowed to install their own) or use server side rendering and basically return a picture. Those same options are available on Windows RT. Nothing stops anyone from creating a browser shell on iOS or Windows RT.

        So if this is corrupt of Microsoft, it is also corrupt of Apple. If it is okay for Apple to do this, it is okay for Microsoft to do this. You can choose and let us know which way you've decided to lean on this one.
        toddbottom3
    • I Agree

      Why is Apple being held to a different standard. Win RT is a new product line that Microsoft has ZERO share of, without a monoply you cannot be a monopolist, nor should you have to design your products as such!

      Apple on the other hand does have monopolistic control over the tablet market AND use that position to stifle competition to benefit themselves.
      clcrockett
      • Microsoft has a desktop monopoly on Win32

        Apple does not have a smartphone or tablet monopoly. Microsoft doesn't have a smartphone monopoly, but microsoft does have a Win32 desktop monopoly which it is abusing by unfairly extending it to Windows RT while blocking others from using it.

        This is a blatant anti-trust violation in my opinion.
        Mah
    • Exactly.

      +1
      Forone
    • The problem is unfair leverage of Microsoft's Win32 API desktop monopoly.

      Microsoft has a monopoly of Win32 OS support on the desktop OS market. By putting Win32 on Windows RT and not allowing others to use it, Microsoft is unfairly leveraging its Windows desktop monopoly.
      Mah
    • Re; Webkit

      You may not be aware of it, but Webkit is not of Apple origin.
      It is of the Qt/KDE base.
      The browser that has used this longer than any other is Konqueror, which is common in any (Linux-) KDE desktop.
      Konqueror has been a standard in ALL Linux KDE desktops for many years.
      Can anyone else use it ?
      Of course they can.
      hkommedal
  • Android tablets own the marketplace? ROTFL!

    Never seen an Android tablet in the wild. iPads, quite a few.
    William Farrel
    • I know 1 person who had an Android tablet

      He got rid of it for a second one. He got rid of that one for an iPad.

      He used to own an Android phone. He got rid of it for a WP7 phone and really likes it.
      toddbottom3
      • one person a market doesn't make

        Which makes your fanbui response even more ridiculous
        ScorpioBlack
    • I like my Android tablet

      But of course, I haven't encountered a real MS fan (in person) in at least a decade either. Most people I know use Windows because it's the default and that's what they're used to.
      John L. Ries
      • Of course, John.

        Nobody upgrades their computer because they can get the new OS they're talking about. The fact that so many people upgrade around the release of a new OS is purely coincidental. ;)

        I'm glad you like your Android tablet, we should all be happy with our choices (sounds like you are), I'm just saying for an OS that's "ruling the marketplace", I have yet to see a Xoom, Tab, or any tablet beyond the iPad "in the wild".

        I'm not saying Android stinks on a tablet, just saying that the blogger here tends to greatly over exaggerate in reference to Linux/Android powered tablets and PC's.
        William Farrel