Mozilla accuses Microsoft of return to ‘digital dark ages’ with one browser OS

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Here we go again. Microsoft has apparently banned browsers other than Internet Explorer in one mode on ARM devices running Windows 8.

In an official blog post, Mozilla says that Microsoft’s proposed browser practices around Windows 8 Metro could signal a return to “the digital dark ages” before there was such a thing as browser choice.

For those of you unfamiliar with the dark ages Mozilla is referring to, here’s a short history lesson. In the mid 90s the world’s browser of choice was Netscape Navigator. By 2002 it had almost disappeared for good. Many blamed its demise on Microsoft’s decision to bundle Internet Explorer with Windows. In fact, Netscape’s demise was largely one of the major factors in Microsoft’s antitrust trial. Once Netscape died Microsoft users were pretty much stuck with Internet Explorer and Internet Explorer only, until Firefox, Chrome and a whole host of smaller browsers came along. There, you should be nicely caught up.

Mozilla’s main gripe is with the Windows Classic mode on Windows RT (the name Microsoft has given to Windows running on the ARM processor). Windows RT, it says:

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. 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.

To some that might not seem like such a big deal, ARM chips are only running on mobile devices. But there are people out there who like choice just as much on their mobile devices as they do on their PCs and, as Mozilla pints out, “in the future ARM will be significant on the PC hardware platform as well”.

Microsoft meanwhile is using the defence that it wasn’t allowing other browsers because of the unique requirements of ARM. It also says that as an ARM based OS, Windows RT “isn’t Windows anymore”. If that sounds like legalese, it’s hardly surprising considering it comes from Microsoft’s legal team.

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