Microsoft has already made it clear that Windows 8 will function differently on devices with ARM and x86 processors. In fact, things will be so different that the company is giving the version of the upcoming operating system designed for ARM-based tablets and other devices a different name: Windows RT.

While Windows 8 and Windows RT will look a lot alike, Windows RT will function a bit differently. There will be an emphasis on the touch-friendly Metro user interface and it’s likely that the only place to download and install apps for Windows RT will be the official Windows Store.

But the differences aren’t just skin deep. The folks that develop the Firefox web browser have been working on a version for Windows 8 — and they’ve run into some stumbling blocks with Windows RT.

Firefox for Windows 8 Metro

Mozilla community director Asa Dotzler says that’s because Microsoft doesn’t let third party developers use the same tools to create Windows RT apps that Microsoft uses for its own software.

In a nutshell, Internet Explorer will have access to a full set of APIs which allow it to run smoothly on ARM-based computers. Firefox, Google Chrome, and other third party browsers will not. At least that’s the way things look right now.

Theoretically Mozilla and other developers can still build apps for Windows 8 and Windows RT. But without access to the same APIs that Internet Explorer users, they’ll be at a major disadvantage and may not be able to offer the same kind of performance on ARM-based devices.

There’s a chance that Microsoft could change its tune by the time Windows RT is ready to launch later this year. But if not, CNET reports that Mozilla’s lawyers are considering legal action as a last resort.

Microsoft has been down that road before, having faced a number of anti-trust lawsuits over its bundling of Internet Explorer as the default web browser with earlier versions of Windows.

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16 replies on “Will Microsoft cripple third party browsers on Windows for ARM?”

  1. What Asa Dotzler’s article actually stated is that MS isn’t providing cross Metro/Desktop access on Windows RT.

    Mozilla and others can still make apps specifically for either the desktop mode or metro, just not one for both!

    Things like JIT could pose a performance limitation but otherwise they’ll still work.

    Only MS will for now have the ability to make apps that will be able to work with both UI types without having to make two versions of every app.

    Mind the decision was probably to help ensure system stability. Apps that have full access can easily cause instability and Windows can ill afford to have any performance issues on ARM at this time.

    While MS could change the policy later, once Windows 8 is established and ARM has reached a higher performance range, or they may create a native client that would act as a sandboxed in-between to allow for such capabilities.

    These things usually develop over time and it remains to be seen how it will really play out.

    1. Hope MS is paying you well to defend them. . .

      It’s simple, MS is saying that they can do x, y, and z with IE but NO ONE else can because they are going to restrict those APIs.

      That’s anti-competitive. 

      End of story!

      1.  Anti-competitive is what most business actions are geared towards!  That’s how competition usually works in actual practice by trying to out maneuver the competition.

        The only question is if it rises to the point of eliminating competition and creating a monopoly!  Thus why we have anti-monopoly laws and not just laws against anti-competitive policies.

        So I’m just pointing out the facts!  The ARM market is not the same as x86 market, Windows is not a Open Source OS, and as pointed out MS is only doing this for ARM devices.  Mozilla and others will not have a problem with the regular Windows 8.

        There’s no shortage of anti-competitive policies in the ARM market.  So let’s not be hypocrites and act like MS is the first or only one!

  2. the big players all try to resurrect their closed kingdoms of money making by enslaving customers / users making them dependent from them via the cloud way. apple, google, facebook, microsoft and others. and mainstream users as well as content ptoviders (books, music, film & news papers even telcos) blindly, happily are following their way into this trap of monocultures.

  3. If Microsoft lets only a few apps get on the RT tablet, it will doom the whole RT ecosystem to failure. MS will then lose the fast-growing tablet market to Apple and Google.

    As these devices get more powerful and feature rich and more people and companies adopt them, the post-PC era will solidify its hold, and MS’ desktop/laptop franchise will slowly erode.

    2012-2013 will be known as the years the WinTel monopoly finally fell apart.

  4. As much as I hate MS I was actually excited to see them support ARM and tablet computing. Now after reading how they are crippling the ARM version it sickens me. To think that for one brief moment I saw some light from MS. Turned out that MS as usual kills all hope before it even hits the market.

  5. This is a serious concern, and not just for Browsers. As written you have to go through a MS approved API to get at ANY OS functionality. Anything which isn’t in your application’s sandbox has to be accessed via a ‘contract’ and that imposes very strict technical limitations and restricts the optimization that can be done. Building something like your own render engine for a browser for instance, is nearly impossible, which is what’s limiting a lot of developers.

    In their rush to emulate the worst aspects of the Apple App Store, they’re going to generate even more ill will than they already have by baring a decade’s worth of .NET apps from running on WinRT without any technological reason for doing so (since .NET already runs on ARM).

    It will be interesting to see how they respond. M$ is at a real watershed moment. They’re destroying the backwards compatiblity which has users locked into their ecosystem on one type of device, and then radically breaking the UI on the classic devices to mimic the look and feel of the restricted devices… This kind of thing could easily cost them users on the desktop, and has no guarantee of getting them a foothold in the table sphere… Interesting times are ahead.

    1. It’s hardly as black and white as you’re trying to portray it. Windows apps aren’t generally self contained and few actually used .NET to fully make their apps capable of working on every system platform.

      So supporting legacy Windows apps on ARM was never really a option, as they would have still needed wrappers, emulators, etc. to provide even half decent legacy support on ARM.

      The big problem with that is ARM CPU’s have only gotten to the performance range that rivals Intel Atoms, the bottom of the Intel CPU performance range, and the ARM chips are also all still 32bit processors. Meaning even with multiple cores they can barely run a modern desktop OS properly, and so MS didn’t have much choice but to streamline the OS as much as possible for running on ARM.

      While competition with existing Mobile OS’es was also a factor, as Windows on ARM would have to compete with the already dominantly used OS’es to gain market share and could not be seen as being much harder to run than those alternatives, which would be the case unless it ran everything natively like those other do.

      Desktop OS are naturally harder to run than Mobile, the Desktop software is more bloated but also more powerful and calls for the use of more resources than needed to run mobile software. So adding anything to the already higher load would have just made Windows run sluggishly, which in a mostly touch UI world of mobile devices would have done more to kill its chances than anything else.

      Also, let’s make clear this is only a issue on the ARM version of WIndows 8. The regular versions of Windows 8 however still has legacy support, still has .Net, etc. So aside from the new UI and emphasis on Metro that it won’t effect traditional desktop users.

      While it remains to be seen whether or not they won’t provide enough customization to satisfy those who prefer the traditional desktop UI. We’ve only seen the previews and the actual Beta release won’t come out for just under two months from now.

  6. I am sure legal action will be coming if this is the case. M$ has already lost cases in the past where they tried to block out the competition.

    1. None of which applies here, they’re not blocking competition as much as not giving them the ability to have an edge and we’re talking about mobile devices, which MS has no dominance at all.

      While Apple does with their iPhones and iPads and they’ve been using practices like this since they introduced iOS.

      1. apple, devices, os and software always had been a closed ecosystem – apple on apple and nothing else. so apple clearly is a different legal thing not falling under the same prospects like e.g microsoft or even google now. therefore not try to compare apples with pears.

        1. No, being always closed doesn’t change whether being closed is legal or not. Anti-monopoly laws apply to all!

          The key factor is whether or not a anti-competitive practice(s) rises to the level of preventing competition, something even Apple does not actually do as there are always alternatives and except for iOS in the mobile market they don’t have a market dominance with OSX accounting for less than 10% of all PC’s. Meaning it doesn’t even inconvenience anyone other than those who insists on using Apple’s OS.

          So the same reasoning applies to Windows on ARM, because MS has no dominance on ARM, or even mobile devices in general, and Windows RT is MS’s own proprietary platform as they’re not supporting legacy apps with it and they’ve have as much to make it closed as they do with Windows Phone OS.

          Mind again this limitation is only with Windows RT, since Windows 8 for x86 still has .NET, etc included and thus still supports legacy apps.

          Only on x86 does MS have a clear dominance that would rise to the level of really hurting competition if they enacted the same limitations there.

          While it remains to be seen if Windows RT will have any traction at all in the mobile market and whether Intel will be successful or not moving into the mobile market to give us a x86 alternative for those really looking into a mobile Windows usage.

          Mind also that MS is specifically calling it Windows RT to emphasis it’s primarily a WinRT version of the platform and showing up front that it’s different and should not be expected to be the same as the regular version of Windows.

          The only thing that may rise to a level that could cause MS problems is the insistence that the secure boot feature can’t be disabled on ARM. However, this only really effects Linux because of the insistence on Open Source. Google can and probably will get licenses to run Android and Chrome.

  7. If your product is inferior to the competition – don’t fix your product, cripple the spread of the competitions product!

    Microsoft copying apple tactics here as i see, good move!

    1. The practice does allow for a more stable and consistent user experience. It just remains to be seen whether full customization and open flexibility will be really missed on ARM. While MS is still providing it on x86 hardware.

      People complaining don’t really realize how different the ARM market has always been from the traditional PC market… Rapid End Of Life, custom niche devices are more the norm than the rarity, etc.

      While ARM may be spreading into the Traditional PC market, it remains to be seen whether they can adapt to the different factors that have normally set their markets apart, besides just performance ranges.

      Part of ARM’s low cost measures is for example the elimination of anything not needed, unlike x86 systems that have things whether or not any particular group of users consider it useless or not as it’s always been more or less one size fits as many as possible for x86 systems.

      So things like support for extra ports, possible expandability options, system customization options, etc will be new to ARM. Assuming they actually try to adapt and not just make static systems like they do now.

      Overall point though is if people want low cost systems that ARM devices are usually known for then they’re not going to get everything they would get with traditionally more expensive systems.

      While we’re still a few years away from ARM being powerful enough to provide enough overhead performance to consider a more capable OS that won’t be noticeably bogged down by overhead from emulations, etc.

      1. well i think this argument definitively has become old school. arm is no niche anymore. therefore forget about this. also there are enough hacks around on the linux side to prove this. and in contrast to apple is microsoft not a device producer at all. they only provide an os and some applications but as they did all the years before, are trying again to force everybody under their privileged command (and for this they had been heavily punished once on x86 systems already.) this tablet situation will hardly be comparable to win ce or mobile. if yes, the result will be foresee-ably become a misfit like the other 2 before.

        1. Old school? I’m afraid you’re mistaking ARM’s still future potential with it’s present status.

          ARM is still a few years from being more than a 32bit processor and providing anywhere near the performance of a even a low end present generation Core i-Series Intel processor.

          Most of the performance advances will be applied just to server market first. So the regular consumer market will take even longer before seriously advancing to the next level and that still leaves them as a pretty niche solution till then.

          It doesn’t help that ARM device makers haven’t stopped using practices that promote rapid end of life and year to bi-yearly replacements and thus promote one off devices instead of something you would use for years like traditional PC’s.

          Along with the same ARM device makers continuing to optimizing their devices to fulfill specific functions and not providing any options to upgrade or modify the hardware.

          The main advantages ARM has always been that it was easily optimized for niche applications. Anything not needed for a specific device could simply be left out to help reduce costs and power consumption. So it’s not something they’re going to just change overnight!

          While as already pointed out the traditional x86 market is not the same as the ARM market! MS doesn’t have any sort of dominance in the ARM market, not even with Windows Phone OS, and that makes them even less capable of being sued than Apple, who, unlike MS, already have a large share of the mobile market that’s only starting to be rivaled by Android.

          Along with the fact the limitation is only going to be on the still limited ARM devices, which will mainly only have Window RT compete with iOS and Android.

          While alternatives like Chromebooks may not yet make the transition to ARM. Since they are already looking at using CPU’s more powerful than the Intel ATOM and that starts putting the performance needs above ARM as well.

          Linux on the other hand may be even easier to port to ARM than Windows and actually retain some legacy support. However, not all ARM chip solutions necessarily work with any desktop OS.

          The GPU for example needs to support desktop standards but many were designed to only support mobile OS’es.

          So it may actually be Windows RT that may help promote more linux support because of the minimal system requirements they are imposing is helping to promote more and more devices with the minimal requirements to properly run a desktop OS.

          Though of course not on the same devices as Windows RT come pre-installed on but manufacturers would have less over head just adding Linux versions to their lineup.

          We’re already starting to see more ARM chips advertising that they could run Linux and Open Source code is being made available for them.

          The remaining problem though is there has never really been a coherent effort to push Linux for general consumers. While most actual attempts have been pretty much too proprietary and/or coupled with hardware that could barely run it.

          So, if anything, it’s likely Android may start dominating for now until everything else can develop more…

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