Google may need history lesson on blocking rivals' products

Is there any good reason Google is blocking Windows Phone users from accessing Google Maps via the Internet Explorer browser?

Mary Jo Foley
Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network.
Mary Jo Foley
3 min read

Update, 4:17 p.m. PT: Google says it's working to remove its Maps redirect, which bumps IE mobile users to Google.com. You can read the company's statement here.

With its decision to block Windows Phone users from accessing Google Maps, Google isn't the first browser maker to block users from accessing content with a competitive product. Microsoft has done the same in the distant and not-so-distant past. But that's still no excuse for what looks like nothing other than a petty, short-sighted move on Google's part.

Back in 2001, Microsoft was slammed for making MSN.com incompatible with browsers other than IE. Microsoft officials said the problem wasn't intentional and rewrote the site to work with non-Microsoft browsers. But the outcry -- even from the head of the Worldwide Web Consortium, Tim Berners-Lee -- was fast and furious.

More recently, I've heard from users frustrated because they couldn't access the Microsoft Careers site using Chrome. (A quick check today indicates those problems seem to have been resolved, either by Microsoft or Google.) And I can verify I've been unable to listen/view Webcasts on Microsoft's Investor site using anything other than IE, though this issue also seems to have been fixed some time in the last few days/weeks. Huzzah!

Am I citing Microsoft's transgressions to excuse Google? Hardly. Given that Windows Phone has only 3 percent market share in the U.S., compared with Android's 54 percent, one could argue Google doesn't have the time/incentive to make sure its Maps work well with Windows Phone. I'm not buying that, though.

As others have noted and seemingly proved, Google's blocking of IE/Windows Phone users isn't attributable to Microsoft using its own Trident rendering engine instead of Webkit -- despite Google's claims to the contrary.

Google Maps works fine in IE10 on Windows 8 and Windows RT and those products use the same Trident rendering engine that Windows Phone does. The two IE10 browsers are not completely identical; there are a number of features in IE10 on Windows 8 that aren't supported in IE10 on Windows Phone, including some programming interfaces, ActiveX, and VBScript. Nonetheless, the evidence is mounting that Google intentionally is redirecting Windows Phone users who are attempting to access its maps via IE.

Maybe the Googlers are trying to pay back Microsoft for trying and largely failing to get the U.S. Federal Trust Commission to take antitrust action against the company. Or maybe they're mad that Microsoft is managing to convince many/most of the Android licensees to pay Microsoft patent-licensing royalties to head off potential legal action.

I don't know how many of we the 3 percent need/want to use Google Maps via the browser. Whether it's a few (including me, on more than one occasion) or many, the move to block Windows Phone users still looks short-sighted. Wouldn't it make more sense to encourage those using your competitors' products (Bing, IE) to access your technology instead of theirs? Maybe you'll win over a new customer or three in the process.

I'm not the first to say it, and I'm sure I won't be the last. Google should brush up on its history lessons. It's emulating the old Microsoft. Even though Google largely beat the antitrust rap this time, maybe its luck won't hold out forever....

Update, 4:17 p.m. PT: Google says it's working to remove its Maps redirect, which bumps IE mobile users to Google.com. You can read the company's statement here.

Update, 5 p.m. PT: In response to a query from me, a Google representative said the redirection for Windows Phone users seeking access to Google Maps via IE in the browser has "always" been in place. I cannot definitively prove this is wrong, but it seems to me that I've used Google Maps via IE on my Windows Phone at least once in the past year-plus. (And this video link, submitted by @4Tiles, makes it look like panning and zooming did, indeed, work.)

If Google is right and this redirection isn't something new, I'm curious why the behavior was only discovered now. Anyone have theories/ideas?

This story originally appeared on ZDNet under the headline "Google shouldn't forget history when blocking its competitors' products."