Mozilla is alleging that Microsoft's plan to exclude outside developers from a corner of its new tablet-optimized operating system harks back to the browser wars of the 1990s. But a closer look reveals that Microsoft doesn't appear to have the market power in mobile and tablets to justify such a charge.
In a blog post, Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson suggested that there were possible "antitrust implications" in the move to restrict what’s known as the Windows classic environment on Windows RT.
Google chimed in with a prepared statement. "We've always welcomed innovation in the browser space across all platforms and strongly believe that having great competitors makes us all work harder," Google said.
An aide to Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., said that committee staffers would look into the allegations.
Back in February, Microsoft published a technical blog post about Windows RT, the iteration of the operating system designed to run on a new processor designed by semiconductor firm ARM Holdings. The ARM chipsets help make tablets run more distinctly and consistently, like Apple’s iPad. Windows RT tablets default to a tiled interface called Metro, created for Windows Phone 7. Tablets will also be allowed to run a "classic" mode that looks more like a traditional Windows desktop environment.
Microsoft told developers that they wouldn’t be allowed to offer their Windows-based applications in this virtualized “classic” mode. In classic mode, therefore, Internet Explorer would be the sole browser option.
Mozilla’s Asa Dotzler said that the restriction "prevents Mozilla from building a modern Web browser on Microsoft products with ARM chips." But the move apparently does not prevent Mozilla and other software makers from designing applications for the Metro interface that are sold through Microsoft’s application store. The model is very similar to the way Apple acts as gatekeeper for apps (including Firefox) available for the iPhone and iPad.
Despite several requests, Microsoft did not comment on the record for this story.
From an antitrust point of view, it's not clear what a case against Microsoft would look like. The Internet Explorer browser currently commands 1 percent of the total market on mobile devices and tablets, according to Net Market Share. In terms of mobile- and tablet-operating systems, Microsoft has an even smaller profile at less than 1 percent.
Microsoft appears to be borrowing tactics from market leader Apple, which dominates in its share of mobile browsers and mobile-operating system, in an effort to ramp up its presence in the tablet computing space. But Mozilla and others are going to have to wait for Microsoft to enjoy some actual success before tarring the firm as a resurgent monopolist.