Mozilla: Microsoft Bans Firefox On ARM-Based Windows

Microsoft bans Firefox on ARM-based Windows, Mozilla says (CNET News, May 9, 2012):

Raising the specter of last-generation browser battles, Mozilla launches a publicity campaign to seek a place for browsers besides IE on Windows devices using ARM chips.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Microsoft muscles aside other browsers and cements the dominance of Internet Explorer. The browser market, deprived of competition, stagnates.

That, of course, is what happened during the first browser war of the 1990s and beyond, on personal computers. Today, Mozilla’s top lawyer warned that Microsoft’s behavior threatens a repeat of history, because it’s telling Mozilla that it’s barring Firefox from forthcoming Windows 8 machines that use ARM processors.

“They’re trying to make a new version of their operating system which denies their users choice, competition, and innovation,” said Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s general counsel. “Making IE the only browser on that platform is a complete return to the digital dark ages when there was only one browser on the Windows platform.”

Anderson has been discussing the matter with his counterparts at Microsoft, but the company hasn’t budged, he said. Anderson also detailed concerns in a blog post.

Microsoft declined to comment for this story.

Microsoft’s position raises the prospect not only of refighting the browser wars of more than a decade ago, but also of reviving the grindingly slow antitrust litigation from the U.S. Justice Department, 20 U.S. states, and the European Commission. The U.S. case is closer to today’s situation: the accusation that Microsoft abused its monopoly power in Windows to crush browser pioneer Netscape.

“Microsoft used its monopoly power to develop a chokehold on the browser software needed to access the Internet,” then-U.S. attorney general Janet Reno said upon suing Microsoft.

Although Microsoft didn’t prevail in those cases, its, uh, competitive spirit appears to be unquenched.

Mozilla isn’t considering legal action at this time, and Anderson said going to court would be “a solution of last resort.” But it’s an option if nothing changes.

“First I want to really see if Microsoft is intent on pursuing this path. They could have a subsequent release that allows third-party browsers,” Anderson said. “Sometimes they need some pressure. If it turns out to be legal pressure, that could be the thing.”

Technically, Mozilla could release a version of Firefox for Windows 8’s new Metro interface — it’s indeed building one for more traditional Windows 8 PCs that use x86 chips. But that browser would be crippled on Windows RT, said Asa Dotzler, a Mozilla spokesman.

“First, Microsoft has a browser that runs in Classic mode on Windows ARM. They are not allowing us that same access to run our browser on Classic. Second, Microsoft has a browser that runs in Metro mode on Windows ARM that has access to rich APIs that they are denying to third-party Metro browsers on Windows ARM,” Dotzler told CNET. “So, we are denied the ability to deliver any browser on Classic, and we are denied the ability to build a competitive browser on Metro.” Dotzler also elaborated on the issue in a first and second blog post.

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