Rivals say new Microsoft operating system favors Internet Explorer over third-party browsers such as Firefox.
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The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to investigate charges that a version of Windows designed to run on tablets violates antitrust laws by limiting access for browsers that compete with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, a published report said.
An aide to Antitrust subcommittee chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) told The Hill that committee staffers will review complaints by third-party browser developers, including Mozilla, that Windows 8 RT will run only Internet Explorer in the desktop mode.
News of the investigation comes shortly after Mozilla officials publicly slammed Microsoft for its tablet architecture.
"Unfortunately, the upcoming release of Windows 8 for the ARM processor architecture and Microsoft's browser practices regarding Windows 8 Metro signal an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages where users and developers didn't have browser choices," said Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson, in a blog post last week. Mozilla develops the rival Firefox browser.
"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," said Anderson.
"Windows on ARM--as currently designed—restricts user choice, reduces competition, and chills innovation," Anderson added. Microsoft representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Microsoft is no stranger to concerns about its software bundling practices. The U.S. Department of Justice famously sued the company for antitrust violations in 1998 over its tying of Explorer to the Windows operating system. Under a settlement, the terms of which expired last year, Microsoft agreed to make Windows more open to third-party developers.
In recent years, Microsoft has seen its share of the browser market decline as an increasing number of consumers use smartphones and tablets, instead of Windows PCs, to access the Internet. Internet Explorer's share of the browser market currently stands at about 54%, according to the latest data from Net Applications. That's down from about 80% five years ago.
Given Microsoft's overall decline in the consumer computing market, it could be difficult for rivals to convince the government to take formal action against the company the way it did in the mid-90s, when Microsoft dominated most aspects of the PC business.
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