Mozilla's Hypocrisy: Apple Can Block Firefox, But Microsoft Can't

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How's this for hypocrisy: Mozilla says that Apple banning Firefox from iPads and iPhones is no problem, but Microsoft restricting the browser from using some features on some Windows 8 tablets may be illegal.

Apple bans Firefox completely from iOS, while in the upcoming Windows 8, Firefox won't be allowed to access certain features of some Windows tablets, those that run on ARM chips. Firefox will be allowed full access to the PC version of Windows 8, and to Windows 8 tablets running Intel chips.

Harvey Anderson, Mozilla's top lawyer, admitted to Computerworld that there are some similarities between the way Apple and Microsoft treat Firefox, but:

"The similarities to iOS don't justify an outcome on Windows that deprives users of choice, reduces competition and hurts innovation."

When pressed to explain the apparenty contradiction in Mozilla's attitude toward Apple and Microsoft, he said:

There's so much wrong with that quote, it's hard to know where to begin. So let's start with the basics: In the tablet market, if there's any monopoly power, it's in the hands of Apple, not Microsoft. The latest IDC report shows that Apple dominates the tablet market, with 68 percent market share. Windows tablets barely sell at all. So what monopoly power is Anderson referring to?

He's clearly referring to Windows' market share on PCs. But there are no restrictions on Firefox's use on existing Windows computers. And when Windows 8 ships, there will be no restrictions on Firefox's use on PCs or on tablets that run Intel chips. The only restrictions will be on Windows tablets running ARM chips, using the operating system being called Windows RT.

Even then, Firefox will be allowed to run on Windows RT. It will be somewhat crippled, though, because it will run only as a Metro app, not a desktop app, and will be restricted from using certain features of the operating system.

Contrast that with the way Apple treats Firefox on iOS: It's banned outright. Apple won't allow Firefox and other true browsers in the App Store, and so they can't be installed on iPads and iPhones. At least Microsoft allows some version of the browser on Windows RT, even if it might not be a fully featured one.

Also, keep in mind that the fully featured version of Firefox will be allowed to run on Intel-based Windows 8 tablets. It's only Windows RT where there will be a problem.

Anderson is hinting that Mozilla may pursue anti-trust action against Microsoft in the U.S. and Europe because of the Windows RT restrictions. He writes on the Mozilla blog that Microsoft's action:

"... runs afoul of the EC browser choice commitments and seems to represent the very behavior the [Department of Justice]-Microsoft settlement sought to prohibit."

Given that Microsoft has only the tiniest slice of the tablet market, and Apple dominates, there's no anti-trust implications here. If there were, they should apply to Apple, by banning competing browsers from the dominant tablet operating system, iOS.

Mozilla should be criticizing Apple even more than it criticizes Microsoft for standing in the way of browser choice. The company is doing its argument no favors by embracing outright hypocrisy.

This story, "Mozilla's Hypocrisy: Apple Can Block Firefox, But Microsoft Can't" was originally published by Computerworld.

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