Mozilla on new browser brouhaha: Microsoft, Apple different cases

Friday, May 11th 2012. | Software News

– Two wrongs don’t make a right, Mozilla’s chief counsel said Thursday when asked why his company hasn’t lambasted Apple, as it did Microsoft, for blocking rival browsers from its mobile operating system.

“The similarities to iOS don’t justify an outcome on Windows that deprives users of choice, reduces competition and hurts innovation,” said Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s top lawyer.

That question — how is Microsoft’s behavior different from Apple’s — came up time and again in comments on the blogs and news stories that reported the claims.

And if both Microsoft and Apple bar competitors’ browsers from their operating systems — Apple refuses to accept real browsers in its App Store — why is Mozilla focused on Microsoft?

Anderson’s answer: Microsoft is a different beast.

“The difference here is that Microsoft is using its Windows monopoly power in the OS market to exclude competition in the browser market,” Anderson said, possibly referring to Microsoft’s dominance of the entire operating system space, not only mobile.

According to Web metrics company Net Applications, Windows remains the overwhelming favorite on the Internet. Last month, Windows powered 85% of all Internet-browsing hardware, including personal computers, smartphones and tablets. Although it owns the lion’s share of the mobile browsing market, Apple’s iOS’s share of all devices was less than 5%.

More important to Mozilla, however, was that Microsoft had pledged in the past to play fair. Its 12 promises, articulated in 2006 as U.S. antitrust supervision was winding down, included one central to Mozilla’s argument.

“Going forward, Microsoft will ensure that all interfaces within Windows called by any other Microsoft product … will be disclosed for use by the developer community generally,” the 2006 document titled “Windows Principles” stated. “That means that anything that Microsoft products can do in terms of how they plug into Windows, competing products will be able to do as well.”

Although Windows Principles is no longer available on Microsoft’s website, it appears to have been replaced by a 2008 document dubbed “Interoperability Principles,” which has similar, although not identical, language related to APIs.

Microsoft made the 2008 pledge — and published tens of thousands of pages of protocol documentation — to meet obligations demanded by the European Union after an antitrust conviction there.

Anderson hammered on the broken promises theme.

“Microsoft [has] published commitments to users, industry and software developers like us that in essence said Microsoft would design Windows to allow choice and provide a level playing field for third-party applications like the browser,” said Anderson. “These factors create a situation that is materially different than iOS.”

Asa Dotzler, director of Firefox, echoed Anderson in a pair of Wednesday posts on his personal blog.

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