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 Windows Classic environment and the new Metro 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 Microsofts unveiling of Release Preview of Windows 8, Google Chrome will also support Snap View, which allows two Web pages to sit side-by-side on the screen.
In a statement, a Google spokesperson said the company shared Mozillas concerns about Microsofts restrictions on choice and innovation: Weve 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 Microsofts browser practices in Windows RT signal an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages where users and developers didnt have browser choices.
The Dark 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. Mozillas Firefox browser came along in 2004 and Google Chrome in 2009.
Fears About Monopoly Negated by Low IE Share on Mobile Devices
Windows on ARMas currently designedrestricts user choice, reduces competition and chills innovation, Anderson wrote. By allowing only IE to perform the advanced functions of a modern Web browser, third-party browsers are effectively excluded from the platform.
Blocking other browsers from Windows RT on ARM devices running in Windows Classic mode may only affect tablets and smartphones, but could also be introduced on desktop and laptop machines in the future, doing more harm to competitors, Anderson argued.
Asked for comment for this story, Microsoft responded by sharing a blog post from February on Windows on ARM (WOA) that included comments from readers imploring Microsoft to admit other browsers onto the platform.
But one analyst thinks Mozilla may be exaggerating things a bit.
While I can understand the point of the Mozilla complaint, I think they’re using too broad a brush here, said Charles King, principal analyst with the research firm Pund-IT.
In the IE vs. Netscape days, Microsoft was clearly using its dominance as a desktop OS vendor to quash browser competition, King continued. However, in todays environment, Microsoft has much weaker share in the tablet environment than it had in PCs, and it seems unlikelyto me, anywaythat Win8 on ARM will ever be a serious threat to Android-based tablets, let alone the iPad.
In fact, Internet Explorer holds only a 1 percent share, globally, of the market for browsers on tablets and other mobile devices, according to May 2012 figures from Net Applications. Apples Safari controls nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the mobile browser market, thanks to the popularity of the iPad and iPhone. Googles Android is next largest at 19 percent followed by Opera Mini at 13 percent.
And even in desktop computers, where Windows still dominates the operating system market, IE holds a 54 percent share, still the largest, but there is much more choice than when IE ruled the browser world. Firefox and Chrome each held a 20 percent share in May, according to Net Applications.
Mozilla is also working on a version of Firefox for the Windows 8 machines on which it would be welcome. Opera Software says its plans for Windows 8 remain a work in progress.
What we can say about Metro is simply that we are evaluating it. We know users will want to run Opera on it but cannot provide specific plans, wrote spokesman Thomas Ford in an email.