The moment Microsoft announced it would lock other browsers out of being installed on Windows RT, we all knew regulatory bodies the world over were wringing their hands. Today, this has been confirmed: in the wake of an investigation into Microsoft not complying with the existing antitrust rulings regarding browser choice, the EU has also announced it’s investigating Windows 8 x86 and Windows 8 RT (ARM).
This week, the EU announced it was investigating Microsoft because the company apparently didn’t comply with the rules surrounding that ridiculous browser choice dialog monstrosity. The company quickly admitted fault, and announced it would extend the browser choice dialog for another 15 months. In summary, there was a bug in the detection software that caused the browser choice dialog to not be shipped to new PCs with Windows 7 SP1.
In the wake of this error and ensuing EU investigation, the boys and girls up in Brussels decided to, for good measure, also investigate the issues surrounding browsers in Windows 8. The EU will investigate Google’s and Mozilla’s claims that Internet Explorer 10 has access to special APIs, while third party browsers do not. In addition, the EU will also dive into the issue of Windows RT being locked down from third party desktop browsers.
I’m actually not happy with this investigation – it focusses on entirely the wrong subject. It is, in fact, far too specific. What we need is an investigation into restricted computers in general, and whether or not it’s healthy for competition that companies like Apple and Microsoft get full control over what software we do and do not run on our devices – not because of technical limitations, but because of conscious, artificial limitations put in place specifically to hinder competition. Just look at how you can’t even change default email applications in iOS.
I hope that, one day, we reach a point where every device comes with a developer switch we can flick to enable full ownership of our devices. That would be a far worthier cause for the EU to fight for than annoying browser choice dialogs. They’re fighting symptoms here, not the root cause.
I’ve wondered why Apple is getting a free pass on their browser and email lockdown on the iPad, which dominates the market, while Microsoft is already receiving scrutiny for a product that isn’t out yet.