As one of Windows 8’s biggest evangelists, I’m in shock. I’ve been reviewing comments by Google and Mozilla, both of which say Microsoft is planning a purge of full-functioned, third-party browsers from Windows 8 RT.
To be clear, Microsoft has officially been relatively quiet about its plans, so we only have the testimony of the world’s two largest third-party Windows browser makers – Mozilla and Google -- on this bewildering development. And the extent of the limitations are unclear. Google suggests it applies to Windows 8 in general (seemingly covering x86 PCs), while Mozilla only mentions a Windows 8 RT (on ARM).
What is clear is that Microsoft appears to be denying browser makers the rights to make or distribute a “Classic” desktop-style browser. At the same time, it’s allowing companies to make only a crippled version of their browsers in Metro.
By denying third parties access to certain useful APIs, Microsoft is allegedly ensuring that its rivals cannot provide the same sort of
“sandbox superuser” privileges that Metro Internet Explorer can.
Potentially one way Microsoft may be doing this is by disallowing them to utilize non-approved plug-ins/extensions, a key selling point for Mozilla and Google's browsers in the past.
Google and Mozilla have both dropped not-so-subtle legal threats in various interviews and blogs. If Microsoft persists in this approach, the lawsuits will come, I can guarantee you that.
Now, I realize the idea of a walled-garden approach -- permitting some applications and banning/limiting others -- is hardly new to the tablet space. Apple bans most third-party browsers (notable exception: Opera Mini) from its iPad and iPhone. And it bans most third-party email and messaging clients. Google had to move mountains to convince Apple to allow Google Voice inside its mobile walls.
But it’s impossible to write this off as simply another walled-garden move.
First, we’re talking about the browser, users’ fundamental gateway to the Internet and a core pillar of modern society. Banning messaging clients is troubling. Banning browsers (or crippling them via API denial) is intolerable.
Second, these changes are expected to apply to at least some laptops under Metro UI. Banning or crippling third-party PC browsers is without precedent in recent history.
And, yes, Microsoft does have a history of such tactics. No one can deny that Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer gained their dominant positions via operating system bundling and the shutting out of third-party alternatives via API denial.
Microsoft should know better. It’s been lashed by antitrust litigation in the US and Europe, and it has agreed to some pretty serious concessions. It has promised to behave itself, and it has paid almost $2 billion to date in fines in the European market alone.
Yes, Microsoft is allowing (by all accounts) crippled Metro UI versions of its browsers, but that doesn’t make the ban less of a defiant antitrust violation -- or any less crazy. Windows 8 is clearly being designed to funnel users toward Metro UI.
Some users hate Metro UI. I love it -- this is an extremely beautiful, intuitive, fast, modern interface. But regardless of your feelings on Metro UI, it’s clear that Windows 8’s core is this ambitious new interface.
I debated using the title “Has Microsoft Lost Its Mind?” for this piece. It is pure, unadulterated insanity for Microsoft even to consider this ban. Not only is it a PR disaster in the making, but it’s utterly suicidal from a legal perspective. I can only imagine EU regulators salivating about what new highs their fines against the stubborn OS maker could reach. Perhaps Microsoft will be helping to finance Greece’s financial recovery, unwittingly, by its sheer stupidity.
I have no doubt that Microsoft will retreat from such plans. The question is whether it will walk away under its own free will, or whether it will do so with its arm twisted behind its back and bruised by new fines. One should not underestimate the tremendous PR damage this has already done.
I’m a Windows 8 believer. But color me a bit disenchanted by this (in my opinion) shockingly stupid move.
— Jason Mick is senior news editor at the independent tech news site DailyTech.