Mozilla's Big Fear: What If Windows RT Is Successful?

In the name of choice, Mozilla and Google should keep fighting for full browser functionality for all on Windows RT.

I admit it, I was initially dubious about antitrust claims by Mozilla and Google accusing Microsoft of making it difficult or outright blocking the use of competitive browsers on Windows RT.

I thought: Simmer down, let's not get the federal government involved. Nobody is going to use the desktop UI of a Windows RT device so it's no biggie if Internet Explorer 10 is the only option.

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That is the outright blocking part. The "making it difficult" side of the coin is on the Metro UI within Windows RT. Here Mozilla and Google are developing Metro versions of their Firefox and Chrome browsers, but they will not be given full access to the Windows 32 API (all Microsoft products including Internet Explorer 10 have access to Windows 32 API).

Without use of this API, according to a recent blog post by Mozilla product director Asa Dotzler, a Web browser is severely limited in what it can do within Metro. Dotzler doesn't mince words; he accuses Microsoft of cheating.

"If we built Firefox for Windows ARM Metro, we would not have access to those powerful Win32 APIs and so we would be at an extreme disadvantage when compared to IE 10 for Metro. We could build a beautiful Firefox that looked really nice on Metro, but Firefox would be so crippled in terms of power and speed that it's probably not worth it to even bother. No sane user would want to surf today's web and use today's modern websites with that kind of crippled browser."

I understand more now where Mozilla is coming from. They're worried that Windows RT might actually, you know, succeed. As of now it's a crapshoot: Windows RT tablets may totally tank when they are scheduled to come out this fall. There is, after all, this thing called the iPad tablet that consumers seem to enjoy using.

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If Windows RT devices are greeted with crickets and tumbleweeds, then the point is moot. It won't matter that Chrome and Firefox can't run effectively on tablets that nobody cares about. But Mozilla obviously can't assume that Windows RT will be a lemon. They have to prepare for it to be a smash success.

As Supersite for Windows Paul Thurrot put it in a recent post: "If Windows RT takes off and is truly successful, it becomes Windows. That is, it does what NT did decades ago, existing for a time side by side with what used to be Windows and then eventually supplanting the old Windows."

InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard advocates in a new blog post for fairness and urges Mozilla and Google to keep demanding that all Windows RT apps have access to the Windows 32 API.

I have to agree.

If Windows RT does become Windows – and it could – and Microsoft is handicapping competitive browsers, we'll be partying like it's 1999. And at this party, Mozilla and Google should cry if they want to.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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