Microsoft: Too Old and Too Big to Survive?

What browser do you prefer? According to w3schools.com, which tracks browser usage of people interested in Web technologies and hence more likely to try alternative tools, as of April this year, 38.3% of us preferred Google's Chrome, 35.8% went with Mozilla's Firefox, and 18.3% were still using Microsoft's Internet Explorer (Apple's Safari and Opera were trailing way behind). Over the last year IE and Firefox have seen their shares decrease and only Chrome has gained share.

So, will these trends continue? Will Google continue to gooble up the browser market? Ah, gentle reader, you might think so or, indeed, hope so, but not if Microsoft has it's way.

In what I assume are the first steps of a broader world domination strategy, it seems Microsoft has decided that, under Windows RT (a version of Windows 8 designed for the ARM architecture), and possibly under Windows 8 on x86 as well (according to Internet Evolution), only Internet Explorer will be able to access all the available APIs and security features.

On the Mozilla blog a post by Harvey Anderson, Mozilla General Counsel, explained the situation: "It's reported that Windows RT ... will have two environments, a Windows Classic environment and a Metro environment for apps. However, Windows on ARM prohibits any browser except for Internet Explorer from running in the privileged 'Windows Classic' environment. 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. Given that IE can run in Windows on ARM, there is no technical reason to conclude other browsers can't do the same."

These limitations would make it impossible for other browsers to do things like use plugins and extensions that aren't approved of by Microsoft. Now, given how rapidly the market for ARM-based laptops and desktops is expanding, this could seriously impact the other browsers' market shares as well as completely remove anything that might look like user choice.

In other words, Microsoft would be quite intentionally and transparently stifling competition and indulging in the sort of anti-competitive practices that caused it to be taken to court by the European Union where the company was found guilty and wound up paying an enormous fine.

According to a CNET article, Microsoft Deputy General Counsel David Heiner justifies this move by arguing that ARM processors have new security and power management features and Microsoft is "the only one who can meet those needs" and that Windows RT "isn't Windows anymore."

This is quite obviously complete nonsense and, when you combine that with other Microsoft moves, such as canning its lame "Windows Live" branding and extending its ridiculous $99 "Signature Upgrade" bloatware removal service to Windows 8, you might be starting to wonder whether Microsoft is entering its dotage. Perhaps, unlike the banks, Microsoft hasn't become too big to fail but rather too old and too big to survive.

Gibbs is hanging on in Ventura, Calif. Your survival plans to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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