Challengers Take on Windows 8
David is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Sometime later this year Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is set to release the next version of their Windows operating system, Windows 8. One of the most intriguing new features in Windows 8 is the version of Windows 8 that will run on ARM based processors called Windows RT. Windows 8 will be the first version of Windows to support ARM (NASDAQ: ARMH) based devices, which will help speed up the success of Windows 8 on tablet computers. However there have been some recent issues with the functionality of software on this ARM version of Windows 8.
Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser and Google, which makes the increasingly popular Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Chrome browser (which by at least one measure is slightly more popular than Microsoft's own browser Internet Explorer) have both raised concerns that on the ARM based edition of Windows 8 their browsers will not get the same functionality as Microsofts own browser Internet Explorer. This is because most applications on the tablet edition of Windows 8, Windows RT, are limited to operating in the touch friendly Metro interface; they won’t be able to use the classic desktop interface that we are all used to using in Windows 7 and Windows XP.
Internet Explorer apparently will have access to this traditional desktop. Mozilla says that browsers require a certain level of integration at the operating system level that they cannot get through the Metro interface. Both Google and Mozilla are worried that all third party browsers will not have the same access to the Windows 8 API and OS that Internet Explorer will have, thus unfairly making Internet Explorer a more functional browser on Windows RT. Although Windows RT will be the minority of Windows 8 installs in the beginning, Windows RT could spread far beyond tablets and we could see ARM powered laptops in the future. Mozilla’s general counsel stated that this move by Microsoft is “a first step toward a new platform lock-in”.
The issue that Microsoft faces from these complaints is twofold, the first of which is competition. Apple’s iPad has a solid lead in the tablet computer market and Google’s Android based tablets are the runner up to the iPad. Both of these platforms will have existed for a few years by the time Windows RT hits the market. Having major software makers balking at Windows RT would not bode well for the adoption and success of Windows RT especially because third party software in the form of good quality apps is key to a new platforms success.
The second issue is that of anti-trust, Microsoft has spent most of its life under the watchful eye of the Department of Justice, though the DOJ’s monitoring of Microsoft for anti-competitive practices has recently ended. Also European Commission action in the last few years has led to users getting a browser ballot on versions of Windows 7 sold in the EU that allows users to choose what internet browser they would like to use.
However Microsoft does have a few things going for them that are different from previous anti-competitive behavior issues. Apple limits the type of browsers that can be used on its iOS devices, and no third party browser can be set as the default. Further in the tablet market Microsoft is clearly an underdog, at the moment they’re not even a player, both of these points weaken the anti-trust or anti-competitive complaints being leveled against Microsoft. Additionally Mozilla has accused Microsoft of anti-competitive behavior before, though with Google backing Mozilla up this claim may hold more water than past claims.
Microsoft needs a smooth launch of Windows 8 especially their tablet RT version as they are not a player in the tablet market. Microsoft knows from Windows Vista how important it is to have their new operating system seem like a worthy upgrade for users. Traditional laptop and desktop manufacturers will switch to Windows 8 and consumers will buy these Windows 8 desktops and laptops, but this traditional market is not growing like the tablet market is.
Microsoft has a competitor in the smartphone market Windows Phone and dominates in the aforementioned desktop and laptops market however Windows RT needs to be a hit for Microsoft to get a foothold in the tablet market. A lot of negative press and a potential hesitation by software makers for their Windows RT platform could have long term ramifications for Microsoft in the tablet market, a market that is estimated to have shipped 64 million devices in 2011 and is on track to sell 232 million tablets in 2016 according to an estimate by Futuresource Consulting.
Additionally Microsoft does not need any more anti-trust attention, and with the senate judiciary committee already launching an exploratory investigation into the restrictive browser environment in Windows 8 RT Microsoft should reverse their decision and at least let other browsers have access to the desktop environment. Microsoft does not need to let every app on RT use the desktop but if they bundle their own program with Windows and it gets access, then third party competitors to that software should be granted equal access to keep competition fair and to keep regulators at bay.
Having more access to the desktop interface in Windows RT could be a selling point of Windows RT as other tablet makers do not have any form of desktop, if ARM does make the leap from mobile devices to low power, light, ultra mobile laptops users would want a desktop interface. For example if they had a convertible device like we have seen with the Asus Transformer Prime where the tablet can be docked into a keyboard unit that turns it into a laptop like device having a desktop interface may be preferable for usage in laptop mode and then Metro when it’s a tablet.
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