Mozilla's Not Happy with Microsoft's Browser Restrictions on Windows RT
Article by George Norman
On 10 May 2012
Mozilla, the non-profit organization behind the Firefox web browser, is not pleased with the fact that Microsoft is not giving its customers the choice to use whatever browser they want on the RT version of the upcoming Windows 8 operating system. Before we go any further, let’s take a look back.

Back in April Microsoft, announced that after reimagining the Windows operating system, it reimagined the Windows 8 editions that are to be released to the public once the OS reaches GA (General Availability) status. There will be three editions of Windows 8 available for purchase:
  • Windows 8 – this edition is meant to be used by home users.
  • Windows 8 Pro – this editions is meant for a business environment where it can be used by professionals.
  • Windows RT – a version that will come pre-installed on PCs and tablets powered by ARM processors.

Mozilla has a problem with Windows RT, which used to be known as Windows on ARM (or WOA for short). As things are now, Microsoft customers who get a device powered by Windows RT will have to browse the web with Internet Explorer (IE); they will not have any choice but to use Microsoft’s own web browser.

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The Windows RT operating system will have two environments: a Windows Classic and a Metro environment for apps. The problem is that Windows RT prevents other browsers from running in the privileged Windows Classic environment; Internet Explorer can run in the privileged environment, other browsers are prevented from doing so.

This means IE on Windows RT can access the advanced computing functions that are vital to modern browsers, while other browsers cannot do this. And if the browsers cannot access these functions, they can’t compete with IE in terms of features, performance, and security. If IE can run on Windows RT, if IE has no problems with ARM-powered devices, then there’s no reason why Microsoft should block other browsers from accessing the privileged Windows Classic environment.

Mozilla General Counsel Harvey Anderson explains why you should care about this:

“Why does this matter to users? Quite simply because Windows on ARM -as currently designed- restricts user choice, reduces competition and chills innovation. By allowing only IE to perform the advanced functions of a modern Web browser, third-party browsers are effectively excluded from the platform. This matters for users of today’s tablets and tomorrow’s PCs. While ARM chipsets may be primarily built into phones and tablets today, in the future ARM will be significant on the PC hardware platform as well. These environments currently have intense browser competition that benefits both users and developers. When you expand the view of the PC to cover a much wider range of form factors and designs as Microsoft and others forecast, it’s easy to imagine Windows running on ARM in laptops, tablets, phones, and a whole range of devices. That means users will only have one browser choice whenever there’s a Windows ARM environment.”




Tags: Mozilla, Firefox, Microsoft, Internet Explorer, Windows 8
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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