Microsoft’s IE ‘Monopoly’ Has Opera Singing the Blues

Possibly causing worldwide feelings of deja vu, Opera Software has filed a complaint with the European Commission (EC) that says the bundling of Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system amounts to unfair monopolization.

Opera, based in Norway, developed and distributes the Opera Web browser. In the complaint it filed with the EC, the company asserted Microsoft should not be allowed to bundle its Internet Explorer browser with Windows, the world’s most widely used desktop operating system.

Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner portrayed the company as a defender of freedom of choice.

“We are filing this complaint on behalf of all consumers who are tired of having a monopolist make choices for them,” he said. “In addition to promoting the free choice of individual consumers, we are a champion of open Web standards and cross-platform innovation. We cannot rest until we’ve brought fair and equitable options to consumers worldwide.”

Open the Windows

The complaint asserts Microsoft is wrongfully taking advantage of its position as king of the desktop tying IE to Windows “and by hindering interoperability by not following accepted Web standards,” said Opera. The company wants the EC to “take the necessary actions to compel Microsoft to give consumers a real choice and to support open Web standards” in the browser.

Specifically, Opera is asking the European Commission to force Microsoft to unbundle IE from Windows or have other companies’ browsers preinstalled on the desktop. It also wants the EC to require Microsoft “follow fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities,” noting Microsoft should “adhere to its own public pronouncements to support these standards, instead of stifling them with its notorious ‘Embrace, Extend and Extinguish’ strategy.”

Microsoft’s “unilateral control over standards in some markets creates a de facto standard,” Opera asserts. This situation adds to support costs, increases maintenance difficulty, is inferior on a technical basis and can add to user security risks, it contends.

What’s Stopping You?

Microsoft spokesperson Jack Evans said people already have the freedom Opera asserts they lack.

“It’s important to note that computer users have complete freedom of choice to use and set as default any browser they wish, including Opera,” Evans said in a statement sent to the E-Commerce Times. He also stressed that PC vendors are not obliged to make IE the main browser in systems based on Windows.

“Computer manufacturers can … preinstall any browser as the default on any Windows machine they sell,” said Evans. “Microsoft is committed to ensuring that freedom through our Windows Principles.”

Yogi Berra’s famous “This is like deja vu all over again,” quote came to mind for Pund-IT Principal Analyst Charles King, referring to the browser-related antitrust ligitation against Microsoft in the United States during the late 1990s.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

“I think it points out a couple of interesting points,” King told the E-Commerce Times. “The world markets are very different places, not just in Europe but in other areas as well. The way the European Union approaches industry regulation is far different than it is in the U.S. It’s an interesting point that a situation Microsoft went through nearly a decade ago in U.S. courts — and settled in one way or another — is raising its head today. From a practical standpoint it almost feels like we’ve stepped into some kind of time warp.”

It’s odd when software developers begin “to make claims they are speaking for the disgruntled masses who wish to have the browser disconnected from the OS and for all browser developers to work with the same group of developers,” he said.

He noted Microsoft tried to assuage European antitrust complaints by creating Windows Edition N, a browser that came without Windows Media Player. “It was an incredible flop,” said King.

Where Next?

Internet Explorer “has been an integral part of the Windows operating system for over a decade and supports a wide range of Web standards,” Microsoft’s Evans noted. Microsoft will “of course cooperate with any inquiries into these issues,” but Evans believes the bundling of the browser with the OS benefits consumers who, nevertheless, “are free to choose to use any browsers they wish.”

King wondered whether Microsoft will have to face similar legal actions in the future in other international markets.

“We’ve been hearing pretty constantly, for the last couple years, about the benefits of globalization,” he said. “I think that it’s important for businesses of every sort to recognize that doesn’t simply mean they get to behave as they do at home. Individual markets have their own regulations and challenges. Do they have to fight this every time that a market becomes mature enough and begins to exert its own regulations? If they do, that could have a more stultifying effect on technology innovation than any other problem.”

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