You are probably aware of the ongoing antitrust case filed by Opera against Microsoft. If you aren’t I suggest you check out the initial press release by Opera. During recent months Mozilla, IBM, Nokia, Sun, Adobe, Oracle, and others have also joined the case. Opera’s demands are two fold – i) to compel Microsoft to give consumers a real choice and ii) to support open Web standards in Internet Explorer. Opera has already been partially successful with the second objective by managing to pressure Microsoft into making the standards mode the default rendering mode in Internet Explorer 8. However, Internet Explorer still has a long way to go.
The second demand is a debatable one. It does appear to be extremely unfair to Microsoft to force them to promote their competition. However, the problem arises because of Microsoft’s monopolistic position in the computer market. To most people Internet Explorer is the only way to access the internet. A large majority of people aren’t even aware of the alternatives. In order words Microsoft’s dominance over the operating system market has allowed it to also dominate the browser space.
To make matters even worse Microsoft is notorious for not implementing web standards. Microsofts dominant position ensures that almost all web-developers will code keeping IE in mind. Since IE doesn’t support standards and has its own set of proprietary technologies, a significant percentage of these websites won’t work on other browsers like Firefox and Opera. The combination of these two factors stifles competition by preventing the web from becoming truly cross browser compliant. To get a better understanding of this read Havard’s explanation.
So what about Mozilla? How did Firefox manage to break the shackles and reach the current position. This is what Mozilla Foundation’s Mitchell Baker wrote.
The success of Mozilla and Firefox does not indicate a healthy marketplace for competitive products. I am convinced that we could not have been, and will not be, successful except as a public benefit organization living outside the commercial motivations. And I certainly hope that neither the EU nor any other government expects to maintain a healthy Internet ecosystem based on nonprofits stepping in to correct market deficiencies.
Now, Opera never really wanted Microsoft to unbundle Internet Explorer. Yes, Opera will prefer Windows without IE than Windows with IE only. But ideally, they wanted Microsoft to provide more options to the users. Opera wanted Microsoft to include alternate browsers and to offer users real choice.
According to initial reports the EU was more inclined to supporting Opera’s viewpoint. Sensing trouble Microsoft resorted to clever ploys to antagonise public opinion. And this move is no different. Not including a browser will definitely inconvenience the users that directly buy the OS from Microsoft (although this is a relatively small segment – around 5%). Not only that totally unbundling Internet Explorer will also break the operating system IE is deeply embedded into Windows. For eg. IE is required for viewing help files (.chm).
Thankfully, both the EU and Opera aren’t falling for Microsoft’s bluff. Opera’s Chief Technical Officer (and the father of CSS) responded by saying :
I don’t think what Microsoft announced is going to restore competition. I don’t think its going to be enough, I don’t think it will get them off the hook
The EU has also reacted negatively to this move indicating that “A “must carry” option that would offer several browsers was a better option” (source). Lets hope that it makes the right call and forces Microsoft to offer real choice.