Google and Mozilla Bash Windows On ARM Browser Lock Out

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Mozilla and Google raise concerns Microsoft is blocking other browsers than IE on Classic Windows for ARM

Mozilla has expressed frustration at Microsoft for limiting rival browsers’ opportunity on its Windows on ARM (WOA) architecture, and Chrome creator Google has backed the Firefox maker’s concerns.

Mozilla says that only Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is allowed to work on the Classic version of Windows for the mobile-oriented ARM processor. Other browsers will be able to run on the Metro version.

Harvey Anderson, Mozilla General Counsel, said in a blog post that Microsoft’s move would take the browser industry back “to the digital dark ages where users and developers didn’t have browser choices.”

Potential antitrust implications

Microsoft was forced into offering a choice of browsers by default in Windows in 2010 following an antitrust investigation in Europe. Previously, it had IE run as default. The Redmond giant had to offer users a choice of 12 different browsers on every new Windows machine from then on.

Anderson said Microsoft’s decision to turn its back on this in the ARM version of Windows “may also have antitrust implications.”

“Windows on ARM prohibits any browser except for Internet Explorer from running in the privileged ‘Windows Classic’ environment,” Anderson added. “In practice, this means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed, stability and security to which users have grown accustomed.

He said there was “no technical reason to conclude other browsers can’t do the same,” claiming the current architecture of Windows on ARM restricted user choice, reduced competition and chilled innovation.

“By allowing only IE to perform the advanced functions of a modern Web browser, third-party browsers are effectively excluded from the platform. This matters for users of today’s tablets and tomorrow’s PCs,” Anderson added.

“We encourage Microsoft to remain firm on its user choice principles. Excluding 3rd party browsers contradicts Microsoft’s own published Principles that users and developers have relied upon for years.”

A Google spokesperson told TechWeekEurope the company was also worried about Microsoft’s actions over Windows on ARM. “We share the concerns Mozilla has raised regarding the Windows 8 environment restricting user choice and innovation,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve always welcomed innovation in the browser space across all platforms and strongly believe that having great competitors makes us all work harder. In the end, consumers and developers benefit the most from robust competition.”

At the time of publication, Microsoft had not responded to a request for comment on Mozilla’s complaints.

Mozilla isn’t the only one concerned about Microsoft’s closing Windows. Security companies have also been irked at the vendor’s moves to assert more control over its operating system.

When asked at last month’s InfoSecurity 2012 conference what was on his list of concerns for the year, Catalin Cosoi, chief security researcher at BitDefender, pointed to Microsoft’s OS, saying “Windows is continuing the trend of providing less and less access to their kernel – they’ve been doing that with Windows 7 and they will do the same with Windows 8”.

“However, it is a product that is being launched this year, it is going to have flaws, it is going to have zero-day vulnerabilities,” Cosoi told TechWeekEurope, suggesting Microsoft’s closed attitude to its OS kernel would, to some extent, harm the security of Windows.

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