Mozilla cries foul over IE lock-in on Win 8 tablets

By Liam Tung on May 11, 2012 8:21 AM
Filed under Software

Browser wars return.

Mozilla has accused Microsoft of crippling third-party browsers on tablets running some versions of Windows 8, in concerns linking Redmond with its European anti-trust settlement.

The Firefox maker's general counsel and spokesman both aired concerns this week that Windows 8 RT for ARM-based chips - those used in smartphones, tablets and some laptops - would effectively make Microsoft's own Internet Explorer the only fully functional browser on the platform.

Under programming guidelines set out by Microsoft, third-party browsers would be prevented from accessing APIs core to their functionality and currently allowable on versions of Windows 8 shipping on x86 PC platforms.

The platform restrictions requires any third party software to be sold through Microsoft's application store, in turn sandboxing those application. As Internet Explorer is installed on the device, it would not face the same restrictions.

"On x86, Microsoft has given browser vendors the same privileges and APIs that IE uses. They have not done this on ARM," Mozilla spokesman Asa Dotzler said.

"Without that [API] access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with IE."

Mozilla's general counsel Harvey Anderson labelled the issue the “first step towards a new platform lock-in” and a return to the ‘digital dark days’ of Internet Explorer's desktop monopoly in a Thursday blog post.

The issue has also caused history resurfaced, with many observers and Dotzler himself pointing to Microsoft's 2009 settlement with the European Union over anti-trust allegations.

Under the settlement, the software giant had agreed to make choice of browsers other than Internet Explorer more obvious to users in the European version of Windows operating systems, preventing user lock-in to the default browser.

Annderson told Cnet that Mozilla had no plans to pursue "judicial solutions" to the issue at this stage.

He said Mozilla had been pushing Microsoft to change the current Windows RT restrictions without avail.

Despite the browser maker's concerns, Windows 8 tablets - both Windows RT on ARM-licensed devices and x86 - are expected to remain below ten percent market share for the next five years.  

In addition, Internet Explorer's presence on mobile devices is dwarfed by Safari thanks to the success of Apple's iPhone and iPad.

Anderson pointed to research firm IHS iSuppli's expectation that by 2015, 23 percent (roughly 74 million) of notebook PCs shipped will run on ARM processors, up from three percent in 2012.

 
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