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Extent of ban is unclear, but Google and Mozilla are outraged, say Microsoft is promoting a monopoly

NOTE: 
In early version suggested that Metro UI third-party browsers are banned.  Mozilla has indicated that Microsoft is actually banning desktop mode third-party browsers ("classic" mode browsers).  While not banned in Metro UI, Mozilla says Microsoft is still trying to cripple third party browsers via API denial.  Microsoft counters saying it gives them some extra API privileges, but has not promised to give Mozilla or Google access to all the APIs that Internet Explorer has in Metro UI.


Windows 8 RT "isn't Windows anymore."

I. The Ban

That's allegedly part of what Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) attorney David Heiner told Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson, during his attempt to explain why Microsoft was banning third-party browsers from the Metro user interface (UI) for Windows 8 RT -- the version of the upcoming OS which will run on ARM architecture chips, targeting tablets and low-power laptops.

Microsoft claims it is only looking out for number one -- its customers.  It is quoted by Mr. Anderson as claiming that third-party browser makers like Mozilla and Google Inc. (GOOG) would be incapable of dealing with the power and security needs of the mobile atmosphere, hence they will be relegated to the low-use traditional "Classic" UI porton of Windows 8 RT.  Hence, according to the clearest account (from the Mozilla Foundation), Microsoft is denying third party browsers installation rights on the "Classic" (desktop) mode.  At the same time it is denying them access to crucial APIs in Metro UI mode, essentially leaving any would-be third party Metro UI browsers crippled.

Windows 8
Microsoft appears to be on the verge of banning third-party browsers from its Metro UI, at least for the ARM OS version for tablets and laptops. [Image Source: Hardware Canucks]

The stance is not entirely unique to Microsoft.  It is rather similar to Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) policy.  While Apple has allowed some third-party browsers for its iPad tablet, it will only accept browsers that are essentially reskins built atop its base Webkit code, which it co-develops with Google.  The sole exception to date has been Opera Mini from Norwegian browser maker Opera Software ASA (OSE:OPERA) (Firefox has not yet been permitted on the iPhone/iPad, nor has Chrome).  

Of course Microsoft stand is also rather unique in that it also will likely affect some of the Windows 8 laptop population.  Even Apple hasn't been bold enough to ban third-party browsers on its laptops, not yet at least.

There may be some truth in Microsoft's argument, as it's working the closest with hardware developers and has the best knowledge of its low level firmware and is hence best positioned to promote power efficiency or security.  But it's also hard to avoid the perception that Microsoft's decision to ban third-party browsers from what may be one of its most attractive Windows 8 segments is awful convenient given Internet Explorer's market share, which has plunged to its lowest level in a decade.

II. Mozilla and Google Cry Foul

Mozilla wrote a stern blog rebuffing the mandate, commenting:

We encourage Microsoft to remain firm on its user choice principles. Excluding 3rd party browsers contradicts Microsoft’s own published Principles that users and developers have relied upon for years. These principles represented a Microsoft market approach that was both notable and went above and beyond their DOJ antitrust settlement obligations.

The not-so-subtle allusion to the U.S. government's antitrust action against Microsoft is seconded by comments by Mr. Anderson in a CNET interview.  He suggests that legal action may be a necessary panacea to the problem.  He remarks, "Sometimes they need some pressure... If it turns out to be legal pressure, that could be the thing."

Adding to the chaos is a new statement from Google commenting:

We share the concerns Mozilla has raised regarding the Windows 8 environment restricting user choice and innovation. We've always welcomed innovation in the browser space across all platforms and strongly believe that having great competitors makes us all work harder. In the end, consumers and developers benefit the most from robust competition.

This statement adds a new layer of uncertainty and doubt, because it makes it sound like Microsoft may be applying the ban not only to Windows 8 RT, but perhaps to all Windows 8 distributions.

Google Chrome Logo
Google and Mozilla, both of whom were reportedly developing Metro UI browser apps are outraged at the tenative ban on third party browser software. [Image Source: Google]

As The Verge puts it:

Its [sic] not clear if Google's mention of "Windows 8" is simply poorly worded or if it has broader issues with the Metro environment.

Regardless, the statements from the two biggest third-party browser makers on the Widnows platform seemingly confirms beyond a doubt that Microsoft is indeed contemplating some kind of browser ban/crippling (via API/rights denial), even if it unclear exactly how far that ban will extend.  

And that's a rather astounding move.  Yes, Microsoft may be right -- it knows the low level hardware better than anyone.  But the same could be said of traditional Windows and Microsoft has hardly showed itself capable of providing the most power efficient or fully functional browser.

III. Antitrust Suicide: What is Microsoft Thinking??

The not-so-subtle elephant in the room is that Microsoft is cracking open wide a massive can of antitrust worms.  The European Union already fined over $2B USD in total for simply not allowing users to chose a separate default browser at install time with Windows Vista/Windows 7.  Microsoft was forced to not only pony up cash, but also release a special version of Windows 7 to placate EU antitrust enforcers.

Compared to Microsoft's much more subtle ploy of simply making its browser the only pre-installed browser and the stock default browser, a complete (permanent) ban on third-party options in part of Windows 8 and alleged crippling in the other part seems a positively suicidal move from an antitrust perspective when we're considering a laptop operating system -- a market that Microsoft owns in excess of 85 percent of.

Of course Microsoft, would surely defend its approach, but EU regulators have not seemed particularly fond of siding with Microsoft in past browser spats.

Seppuku wide
The browser ban seems suicidal from an anti-trust perspective. [Image Source: Euro-Synergies]

Again, it's hard to know what Microsoft is thinking here as the company has refused to comment on the statements and we only have Google and Mozilla's information to rely on.  It's possible that Microsoft is only considering the ban for non-EU distributions of Windows 8 (such as the U.S. version).  But even in the more lax antitrust atmosphere of the United States, it's hard to imagine that antitrust regulators would buy such a decision, particularly given the clout that Mozilla and Google command in the federal government.

Remember, the 1999 case revolved around accusations that Microsoft boosted its Office suite by denying third parties API access.  Granted the situation is a bit different in that this may only apply to one architecture, but there's still cause for concern and caution, even in the U.S.

This is a very surprising development and should be a very interesting issue to watch in coming weeks.  I expect Microsoft to fully recant on its decision to ban third-party browsers, but the key question is whether it is wise enough to make that move on its own free will or whether it is foolhardy enough to persist in the policy until legal challenges land and it is struck with more antitrust punishments.

Sources: Mozilla, CNET [Google], [Mozilla], The Verge



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RE: Complete BS.
By nafhan on 5/10/2012 1:25:05 PM , Rating: 5
OK:
1) "why are these two companies not focused on Apple?"
Basically, the complaining about Apple's restrictive policies has been going on for years: it's old news. MS is taking what was expected to be a more open platform and (unnecessarily?) restricting it. Plus, Mozilla has ALREADY gone to significant trouble adapting Firefox to the Metro UI based on this expectation (same probably applies to Google).

2) "is it inherently wrong to not allow non-metro third-party apps on a metro tablet?"
MS can do whatever they want (within the confines of the law) with their products. So, it's not "wrong". It is however, I'll say, D-bagish to introduce that type of restriction at this point.


RE: Complete BS.
By datdamonfoo on 5/10/2012 1:32:43 PM , Rating: 3
1. You say it's old news, but I've never seen Google or Mozilla formally complain that their browsers were not allowed on Apple's format. And if they have stopped complaining, why renew the SAME complaint with a new company?

But let's say they HAVE been complaining for sometime about Apple. If Apple has shown that you can simply ignore Google and Mozilla and in time they will stop, then what is the impetus for Microsoft to even care about this?

And if Mozilla has ALREADY gone to significant trouble adapting Firefox to Metro, then what is the problem? No one is stopping them from making a Metro Firefox. This complaint is about making a non-metro Firefox for Windows RT, which is all Metro, aside from a handful of Microsoft apps.

2. I'm not sure if it is D-baggish or not, but if it isn't wrong, then too bad. Google is a D-bag for not allowing Youtube's APIs. But it's not wrong in that it's not illegal. You said it was wrong, and now you're saying it isn't, so which is it? And what is "this point"? Windows RT has never been available before, so what exactly would have been the right point to introduce this type of restriction? Again, Windows 8 has none of these restrictions, this is only Windows RT.


RE: Complete BS.
By nafhan on 5/10/12, Rating: 0
RE: Complete BS.
By datdamonfoo on 5/10/2012 4:19:03 PM , Rating: 3
1. First of all, Google Voice was rejected, but was summarily accepted. Second, Google does the same thing on Windows Phone, if not in a more evil way. Google not only blocks Windows Phone (and ONLY Windows Phone) from accessing its APIs, but it is actively going after 3rd party solutions on the Windows Marketplace.

http://wmpoweruser.com/google-cracking-down-on-mar...

And Mozilla saying they weren't even going to try is much different than ACTIVELY complaining like they are doing now. Why are they not just accepting it and pouting in a corner like they did last time? What's the difference?

2. Ok, I apologize, I mixed you up with the other poster (since I asked him to elaborate but you replied instead).
The Youtube API was brought up by me in the OP. It wasn't random, it was just showing that d-baggish moves are made by Google, and we all seem to accept it, which is hypocritical.


RE: Complete BS.
By sprockkets on 5/10/12, Rating: 0
RE: Complete BS.
By datdamonfoo on 5/10/2012 6:17:18 PM , Rating: 3
MS isn't suing anyone that I know of for that at least. The Android OEMs paid out when confronted by Microsoft. Because Microsoft owns patents and are protecting their property. Perhaps if Google weren't such d-bags and allowed the same access to their sites to Microsoft that it allows EVERYONE ELSE, MS would be a little more inclined to work with Google on these issues.


RE: Complete BS.
By sprockkets on 5/11/2012 12:46:52 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
MS isn't suing anyone that I know of for that at least.


What, Barnes and Noble over the android powered nook and Motorola's android phones don't ring a bell? Just about every claim made to the FTC fell flat for MS against MOTO.

quote:
Because Microsoft owns patents and are protecting their property.


You mean vague software patents? And thankfully the FAT32 long filename patent was ruled invalid due to prior art.

quote:
Perhaps if Google weren't such d-bags and allowed the same access to their sites to Microsoft that it allows EVERYONE ELSE, MS would be a little more inclined to work with Google on these issues.


Funny how third party apps on wp7 have no issues working with the meta data that MS claims is being blocked to them.

I haven't seen any updates on that story from 3/31/11 so we'll just have to see.

Btw, when did you see Google complain about Bing being the default search engine on an Android phone? Yeah, remember that?


RE: Complete BS.
By nafhan on 5/11/2012 10:01:57 AM , Rating: 2
I agree that the situations aren't exactly the same. Since it's more of an interesting aside rather than info relevant to the discussion, let's ignore it...

More relevant: whether or not some other software company has done something at some point has no bearing on whether or not what MS is doing right now is a good thing for people creating alternate web browsers for Windows 8/RT. It's pretty clearly not a good thing (for them at least), they have reason to complain, and the fact they have done things that are similarly frustrating in the past doesn't make those complaints any less valid. That's all.

There's no rule that says complaints have to be an all or nothing thing that can only be made by those that have done no wrong...


RE: Complete BS.
By tamalero on 5/11/12, Rating: 0
RE: Complete BS.
By datdamonfoo on 5/11/2012 12:01:00 PM , Rating: 2
1. Then that would be the wrong answer. Microsoft has barely ANY of the tablet market. The iPad is around 80%. This is not Windows 8, this is Windows RT. Windows RT has 0% marketshare. There is no monopoly issue here.

2. Google has not done the same when IOS devices are involved. IOS does not allow for Chrome to be installed, but Google has remained completely silent about it. Why?

For Youtube, your suppositions make no sense. Why does Google allow all other mobile devices to access their APIs but Windows Phone? How is Windows Phone any different?


RE: Complete BS.
By AssBall on 5/10/2012 1:29:49 PM , Rating: 2
Can you run IE or Opera on a Chromebook? ...Yes, if you really like having it all but neutered and getting 3rd and 4rth party programs installed and enjoy dicking with things that should be so much simpler.

Just saying there is a lot of double standard to consider here, it is not like the old IE/Netscape monopoly fight, there is way more and different kinds of devices and pantents involved here.


RE: Complete BS.
By nafhan on 5/10/2012 2:49:58 PM , Rating: 2
Two problems with your line of thought here:

1) My issue is more with MS adding this restriction this late in the game. If this was clear from the start, it would probably be less of an issue.

2) Why the HELL would anyone buy a Chromebook :)

I think Windows 8 tablets look interesting so far... just not the ARM based ones. I'll be really interested to see whether they run full Windows 8 or "Windows RT" on the SoC x86 CPU's (i.e. Medfield/Clovertrail). That'll decide whether or not I'm interested in buying one.


RE: Complete BS.
By TakinYourPoints on 5/10/2012 3:03:43 PM , Rating: 4
Microsoft said last year that the only way to load Metro apps (meaning all apps for ARM devices) would be via the Windows Store, and that they wouldn't be allowing desktop applications for ARM on there. This isn't a new restriction.


RE: Complete BS.
By WalksTheWalk on 5/11/2012 9:47:56 AM , Rating: 3
I think the problem is that Microsoft is labeling both the x86 and ARM versions of the two products as Windows 8 which causes confusion.

People are going to see the ARM version of Windows 8, see that they cannot load their favorite browser, office application or whatever and start calling for Microsoft anti-trust even though Apple had done something similar with iOS. The difference from Apple's perspective is that OS X and iOS are clearly braded as two different things. Microsoft made the mistake of branding both as the same product AND making them look and basically operate the same.


RE: Complete BS.
By TakinYourPoints on 5/11/2012 7:10:30 PM , Rating: 2
While I disagree that Microsoft should get into legal trouble over this (it won't stop litigation though), I do agree that they should have more discreetly branded and separated Windows for ARM and x86 devices. Combining the two so completely is going to cause many practical issues.


RE: Complete BS.
By sprockkets on 5/11/2012 12:51:57 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Can you run IE or Opera on a Chromebook? ...Yes, if you really like having it all but neutered and getting 3rd and 4rth party programs installed and enjoy dicking with things that should be so much simpler.


IE could run on linux natively if MS wanted to, not because they are stopping them from doing so.But it depends on so many integrated Windows technologies that perhaps without a complete rewrite it is impossible.

Heck, opera, Dolphin, Maxathon, Firefox all can run without fuss on Android, phone or tablet(why you bring up Chromebook is beyond me)


RE: Complete BS.
By NellyFromMA on 5/10/2012 8:37:47 PM , Rating: 3
I mean, if you find it too restrictive, don't buy it? Win RT isn't even out, it has 0% market share. Hardly a monopoly. Just don't use it and let the consumers decide on this one?


"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner














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