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Antitrust probe looms over Windows RT 'browser ban'

Internet Explorer shenanigans: Hasn't Microsoft been down this road before?

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US politicians are reportedly poring over complaints by Mozilla that Microsoft will block access to rival browsers in Windows 8 on ARM, aka Windows RT.

The powerful Senate Judiciary Committee plans to “take a look” at the allegations made by the Firefox maker last week, which were backed up by Google. Whispers of a probe apparently came from antitrust subcommittee chairman Herb Kohl's aide. El Reg has yet to see if this is more than just talk.

The report came after Mozilla’s chief lawyer said Microsoft was denying access to APIs for Windows 8 on ARM needed by Firefox to run on the new platform.

Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson called the restrictions a return to the digital dark ages "where users and developers didn't have browser choices".

Google pitched in, saying it shared Mozilla’s concerns over lack of choice and competition.

A stirring of US politicians would be an unwelcome development in the story of Windows 8 for Microsoft and its long-awaited move into tablets. It will mean publicity of the wrong kind as Redmond is forced onto the defensive and comparisons are drawn with the company's previous bad behaviour.

The committee presides over antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights in the US. It was the judiciary committee that pulled in a reluctant Bill Gates for testimony in March 1998 as part of its investigation into monopolies in the software industry.

Gates appeared along with Netscape Communications CEO Jim Barksdale and Sun Microsystems CEO and co-founder Scott McNealy.

Microsoft's co-founder and then CEO told the politicos on duty that day that Microsoft did not have a monopoly.

However, the hearings took place as the US Department of Justice prosecuted Microsoft on antitrust violations for coupling Internet Explorer to Windows, making it tricky for Netscape to establish itself as users discovered the internet. Microsoft was found guilty of breaking antitrust law, but escaped a breakup order on appeal and change of government.

Code from Netscape's heavy-weight browser - Internet Explorer's arch rival - evolved to form the basis of Mozilla’s much leaner Firefox, although today's browser is a completely rewritten beast.

In recent years, the committee’s attention has passed from Microsoft to Google, thanks in part to prompting from Redmond: in 2008, Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith gave testimony against a search deal between Google and Yahoo!

Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt was quizzed following complaints his advertising giant was hurting rival services by biasing search rankings for its stuff in its favour - he denied the allegation. ®

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