Mozilla’s objection to IE-only Windows on ARM: a major row in the making

Last week, Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson claimed that a choice of browsers is important for Windows ARM users. “Windows on ARM prohibits any browser except for Internet Explorer from running in the privileged ‘Windows Classic’ environment.” This, he believes, will stifle competition and innovation for ARM users, who will initially be primarily phone and tablet users. But he is also concerned that in the future the ARM platform will move into PCs. “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.”

In what reads like a veiled warning, he raises potential anti-trust issues. “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.”

His comments started a wider debate. How is Microsoft’s action any different to the walled garden of Apple? If Mozilla is concerned about exclusion practices by Microsoft, why isn’t it taking a similar stance against Apple?

Now Anderson has responded in Computerworld. "The difference here is that Microsoft is using its Windows monopoly power in the OS market to exclude competition in the browser market," he said. ComputerWorld points out that Mozilla’s concern is less over the mobile internet than the overall internet browsing market. While Apple dominates mobile browsing, its overall share including desktops is only 5% compared to Windows 85%.

In a separate blog, Firefox director Asa Dotzler stresses that the issue is one of competition. “For Windows on X86, Microsoft is giving other browsers basically the same privileges it gives IE,” he writes. “But on ARM chips, Microsoft gives IE access [to] special APIs absolutely necessary for building a modern browser that it won't give to other browsers so there's no way another browser can possibly compete with IE in terms of features or performance.” He too stresses the anti-trust issues at stake. In a comment to this blog, he says, “Apple is not a convicted monopolist that has legally binding commitments to not block access to browser-related APIs like Microsoft,” and later adds, “Microsoft made legally binding commitments around anti-trust. Those commitments don't go away because Microsoft wishes them away.”

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