Dear Mozilla: Don't give up on Windows RT

Microsoft hasn't yet told us what it's going to do about allowing browsers fair access on Windows RT. Mozilla, you're carrying the ball for all of us. Go, go, go

Yesterday, Mozilla product director Asa Dotzler posted yet another broadside about Microsoft preventing access to the Windows 32 API in Windows RT: "We know that Microsoft is shipping a powerful browser on Metro. Metro would be dead in the water without a really capable Microsoft browser. So how does Internet Explorer 10 provide a beautiful and powerful experience in the Metro environment? It's easy. IE 10 cheats. We could build a beautiful Firefox that looked really nice on Metro, but Firefox would be so crippled in terms of power and speed that it's probably not worth it to even bother. No sane user would want to surf today's Web and use today's modern websites with that kind of crippled browser."

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer reported on Dotzler's statement, saying, "Although Dotzler's 'not worth it' comment may hint at the likelihood that Mozilla will step away from Windows RT, it is not the company's official position."

Whew.

With Windows RT likely to be the harbinger of Windows to come, it's more important than ever that Mozilla and Google keep up the pressure to allow Windows RT apps access to the Windows 32 API. If Microsoft can deploy Windows RT apps with full access to the Windows 32 API -- Internet Explorer, yes, but also Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Windows Explorer, among others -- it's unconscionable that Microsoft would block access to the same tools to other software manufacturers. In the particular case of Web browsers, where Microsoft has already made an exception for Windows 8, the restraint is particularly galling.

Many analysts believe that Microsoft has a right to restrict access to features in Windows RT -- specifically, the Win32 API -- just as Apple has a right to restrict access to the innards of iOS. Both Windows RT and iOS effectively ban efficient JavaScript engines in their apps. In both cases, the ban is enforced in the name of security, stabililty, and system resource consumption. But there are many third-party browsers running on iOS. Windows followers have good reason to ask, "What makes iOS different?"

In fact, there are more than a dozen browser alternatives currently running on iPhones and iPads -- the two best-known are Dolphin, from MoboTap, and Opera Mini, from Opera Software. They work in very different ways.

Dolphin uses the Safari WebKit, a JavaScript and HTML rendering engine that's built into iOS and available to any iOS app through the UIWebView class. Opinions vary widely, but UIWebView is frequently criticized for its, uh, lethargy. Safari apparently runs much faster, using a JavaScript engine known as Nitro JavaScript. Other iOS apps that rely on UIWebView get stuck in the Apple-authorized mud.

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