Windows RT's Browser Handling is a "Return to the Digital Dark Ages," Mozilla Says

Paul Lilly

Mozilla isn't mincing words when it comes to Microsoft's decision to limit or restrict the behavior of non-Internet Explorer browsers in Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 intended for systems with ARM hardware inside. In a semi-angry blog post, Mozilla raged against reports that Internet Explorer will be the only browser allowed to run in the privileged 'Windows Classic' environment, calling the move "an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages where users and developers didn't have browser choices." Ouch.

"It’s reported that Windows RT (the name Microsoft has given to Windows running on the ARM processor) will have two environments, a Windows Classic environment and a Metro environment for apps. However, Windows on ARM prohibits any browser except for Internet Explorer from running in the privileged 'Windows Classic' environment," Mozilla explains. "In practice, this means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed, stability, and security to which users have grown accustomed. Given that IE can run in Windows on ARM, there is no technical reason to conclude other browsers can’t do the same."

The way Mozilla sees it, Microsoft's strong-arm behavior effectively excludes competing browsers from the platform, giving users just a single viable browser choice when running Windows in an ARM environment. If the reports are true and Microsoft doesn't reverse course, it could find itself defending its decision in court.

"Because Windows on ARM relies upon so many traditional Windows assets, including brand, code, footprint, and experience, the decision to exclude other browsers may also have antitrust implications," Mozilla 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."

Mozilla didn't come out and say it would be the one filing suit, or urging for an investigation, but if nothing changes between now and the time Windows 8 is released, it's a pretty safe bet Microsoft will have some explaining to do.

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