Google, Mozilla Complaints About Microsoft Browser Eyed by Senate Panel

The staff of a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on antitrust issues is looking into the Mozilla Foundation's allegations that Microsoft has made it difficult for competing browsers to run on Windows-powered mobile phones.

A subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is reportedly starting to look into allegations from the Mozilla Foundation and Google that Microsoft is purposely making it difficult for their Web browsers–Firefox and Chrome, respectively–to run on Windows-powered mobile devices.

Antitrust Subcommittee staff will begin looking to the allegations, according to an aide to the subcommittee chairman, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). The story was first reported late last week in The Hill, a news publication that covers Congress. A press aide to Kohl, Dawn Schuler, told eWEEK that the investigation is in its very early stages.

"We are conducting a preliminary inquiry to find out the facts on this issue and are not thinking of any hearing at this time," Schuler said. Mozilla and Google claim that Microsoft has taken steps to "hinder" the performance of their browsers on Windows-powered devices running an ARM processor, The Hill reported.

The dispute is reminiscent of the "Browser Wars" of the early 1990s, when Microsoft crushed the Netscape Navigator browser by making Internet Explorer the default browser on Windows computers. The "Browser Wars" were among the many issues that led to a multi-year antitrust legal battle between Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Justice that resulted in a landmark settlement that forced Microsoft to curtail what were judged to be anticompetitive practices.

The European Commission, the governing body of the European Union, has also imposed restrictions on Microsoft practices, including specific ones related to Web browsers.

This time the dispute is between Microsoft and Mozilla and Google over Microsoft's Windows on ARM (WOA) architecture, also known as Windows RT.

In a May 9 Mozilla blog post, Asa Dotzler, the software engineer directing Mozilla development for the coming Windows 8 operating system, wrote that Microsoft has been enabling competing browsers on X86 architecture computers, but not on ARM devices.

"On ARM chips, Microsoft gives IE access 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," Dotzler wrote. He also said the Opera browser is similarly harmed along with Firefox and Chrome.