Microsoft is undoubtedly hindering third party apps by failing to provide a level playing field. However, Apple has been doing the same thing for ages and has been getting away with it. Sure, a lot of people believe that what Apple is doing is also immoral, but so far it hasn’t faced any sanctions or fines for being anticompetitive. The reason behind that is Apple isn’t a monopoly. When the iPhone was released it was a new entrant in a market with plenty of competition. Even now, the iPhone isn’t a monopoly. While the iPad managed to gain a huge lead in the tablet space, new devices like Amazon Fire have managed to sell quite well. Similarly, in the tablet space, Microsoft currently has no presence. Far from being a monopoly, Windows 8 for ARM is the underdog. As a result, no matter how unfair Microsoft’s restrictions for ARM devices are, they aren’t in any danger of being pulled up by the courts for it. However, there is another issue that might cause Microsoft serious pain.
On Windows 8 for x86, application developers are free to leverage both WinRT and Win32 APIs, and this is preciously what Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are going to do in their Metro editions. In fact, developers can eschew WinRT by sticking to a classic desktop app. Now, while Windows 8 Store will allow desktop apps, Microsoft had earlier stated that “Store policy and various runtime restrictions automatically exclude certain types of apps”. Does this mean that browser apps will be discarded? No one is quite sure yet. However, if it turns out that browsers like Firefox and Chrome can’t be submitted to the Store, then Mozilla and Google will have a potent weapon to attack Microsoft with. The Store is very tightly integrated with Windows 8, and will become the primary avenue for most users to install apps. Barring third party browsers from the Store of Windows 8 for desktop, which is a monopoly, might prompt regulators to take another long and hard look at Microsoft’s policies and practices.
The situation around third-party apps in Windows 8 is far from being clear. There are still quite a few unknowns at play. It will be interesting to see how serious Mozilla and Google are about pressurizing Microsoft. Somewhat surprisingly, when contacted, Opera refused to comment. Historically, they have been one of the most vociferous opponents of Microsoft’s practices. Back in 2010, they forced Microsoft to offer a ballot screen for browsers in Europe. My personal belief is that while Microsoft’s restrictions for ARM are unfair to third-party developers, there isn’t much they can do about it. However, if Windows 8 for desktop also restricts developers directly or indirectly, then Microsoft might land up in trouble.