Thursday, October 25, 2012

EU antitrust regulators let Microsoft limit browsers on Windows RT

Computerworld - European Union regulators will not force Microsoft to open its Windows RT operating system to rival browsers, the Brussels-based antitrust agency said Wednesday.

At the same time, the European Competition Commission served Microsoft with formal charges for failing to display a required browser choice screen on millions of Windows 7 PCs in the EU over a year-and-a-half span ending last July.

The free pass over Windows RT, however, eliminates an investigation that would in many ways be a repeat of the 2009 exchange between the Commission and Microsoft.

"We have looked at Windows RT, and on the basis of our investigation so far, there are no grounds to pursue further investigation on this particular issue," Joaquin Almunia, the EU's head antitrust official, said at a news conference Wednesday. "But we will closely monitor all the elements of the Windows software and how Microsoft complies to [its] commitments."

Almunia's agency fielded complaints last summer that accused Microsoft of stymying other browser makers' efforts to build software that runs in Windows RT, the offshoot of Windows 8 designed for ARM-powered tablets.

Microsoft will launch its first-ever computing device, the "Surface RT" tablet, on Friday.

Although the Commission has declined to name the complainants -- and did not do so yesterday -- the most vocal about Windows RT has been Mozilla, the open-source developer whose Firefox is the world's second-most-popular Web browser.

Mozilla is particularly strong in Europe, where it has an estimated 29% of the market, behind only Google's Chrome. Its European share is considerably higher than the 18% it enjoys in the U.S., according to Irish metrics company StatCounter.

In July, Reuters reported that regulators were looking into allegations that Microsoft refused to give rivals full access to APIs (application programming interface) in Windows RT.

It wasn't a surprise: The Windows RT APIs had been a source of tension between Microsoft on one hand, and Mozilla and Google on the other, for months.

In May, Mozilla accused Microsoft of withholding APIs necessary to build a competitive browser for Windows RT, and said the behavior "may have antitrust implications."

Mozilla noted that Microsoft had given full API access only to the latter's own Internet Explorer 10 (IE10), the sole browser that will run on Windows RT's conventional desktop. Sans those APIs, it was impossible to create a viable browser for Windows RT, Mozilla argued.

"We could build a beautiful Firefox that looked really nice on Metro [the then-current code name for the Windows RT user interface, or UI], but Firefox would be so crippled in terms of power and speed that it's probably not worth it to even bother," said Asa Dotzler, director of Firefox, in May.

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