Windows RT for ARM Devices Raises Old Fears of IE Browser Monopoly

On some Windows RT machines, Internet Explorer will be the only browser choice. But while this sounds like an echo of IE vs. Netscape, others say the browser landscape is much different today.

The Microsoft announcement that Internet Explorer will be the only browser choice on some Windows RT devices brought a howl of protest from one browser rival, Mozilla, but Microsoft faces a much different market than when it gave away Internet Explorer for free to crush Netscape Navigator in the browser war of the 1990s.

Microsoft says IE will be the only browser choice in devices running Windows RT, the variation of Windows 8 designed for devices running ARM processors. Windows 8 will run in two modes on those ARM devices: a €œWindows Classic€ environment and the new €œMetro€ environment that looks similar to the tiled start page of Windows Phone 7. Competing browsers can still have access to the Metro version but IE stands alone as the browser in Windows Classic.

Google provided new details last week of its plans to develop a Google Chrome browser to run on the Windows 8 machines that it will have access to.

In a blog post that followed Microsoft€™s unveiling of Release Preview of Windows 8, Google Chrome will also support €œSnap View,€ which allows two Web pages to sit side-by-side on the screen.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said the company shared Mozilla€™s concerns about Microsoft€™s restrictions on choice and innovation: €œWe€™ve always welcomed innovation in the browser space across all platforms and strongly believe that having great competitors makes us all work harder,€ the statement read.

Mozilla, on the other hand, blew a gasket. In a blog post last month, Mozilla Foundation Legal Counsel Harvey Anderson argued that Microsoft€™s browser practices in Windows RT €œsignal an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages where users and developers didn€™t have browser choices.€

The €œDark Ages€ to which Anderson refers are the mid-1990s when the Web was just a toddler and Netscape was strong competition for Internet Explorer on Windows-based computers. The way IE drove Netscape out of the market prompted the U.S. government to sue Microsoft for its anti-competitive practices. In a settlement, Microsoft had to offer Windows users alternatives to IE by giving other browsers access to Windows. Mozilla€™s Firefox browser came along in 2004 and Google Chrome in 2009.