Monday, January 26, 2009

Microsoft and the European Commission

In a forum thread at WinVistaClub Forum, I was reminded that I had read the BBC article, Microsoft is accused by EU again (via Stealthzone at LandzDown) last week. So, what is the story with the EU (European Union) and Microsoft this time?

It seems that a complaint was filed with the European Commission by Opera Software ASA* and, as a result of their study, the Commission sent a Statement of Objections to Microsoft on the tying of Internet Explorer to Windows.

According to European Commission Press Release:
"The evidence gathered during the investigation leads the Commission to believe that the tying of Internet Explorer with Windows, which makes Internet Explorer available on 90% of the world's PCs, distorts competition on the merits between competing web browsers insofar as it provides Internet Explorer with an artificial distribution advantage which other web browsers are unable to match. The Commission is concerned that through the tying, Microsoft shields Internet Explorer from head to head competition with other browsers which is detrimental to the pace of product innovation and to the quality of products which consumers ultimately obtain. In addition, the Commission is concerned that the ubiquity of Internet Explorer creates artificial incentives for content providers and software developers to design websites or software primarily for Internet Explorer which ultimately risks undermining competition and innovation in the provision of services to consumers."
In the "Microsoft On The Issues" Blog article, "Microsoft and the European Commission," it was indicated that the Commission is alleging that the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows since 1996 has violated European competition law.

I am finding this incredibly difficult to understand. I recall the first personal computers that were installed in our office included the choice of both IE and Netscape. I elected to use Netscape as my preferred browser.

A forum search at Freedomlist reveals that in 2002 I was using K-meleon, moved to Mozilla 1.1 to Firebird and then back to Mozilla -- all on my Windows 95 computer. It wasn't until 2004 that I migrated to Firefox. Somewhere along the line, I tried Opera but did not care for it. I skipped Windows 98 and went to Windows XP and now Windows Vista and Windows 7 Beta -- all with Firefox as my browser of choice.

If Microsoft were undermining the competition, as implied by the Commission, how would it be so easy for me to have used an alternate browser all of these years? I certainly do not have any problems with accessing websites or using software with Firefox. In fact, I find the customizable features, including add-ons and themes, of Firefox preferable.

By requiring OEMs to include alternate browsers in new computers, I suggest that the EU does not care that OEMs will then be tempted to charge the consumer extra to not install multiple browsers. It will also be more costly for OEM distributors to change the images as those multiple browsers are updated for vulnerabilities. That, or they will leave the vulnerable browser versions and the customer will blame Microsoft when their new computer is infected.

No one is forced to purchase a Microsoft operating system. There are alternatives. Note, however, that if you purchase a Mac, the only installed browser is Safari. That also does not preclude the Mac owner from installing an alternate browser. Interestingly, the comments at AppleInsider in "Europe revives claims of Microsoft web browser monoply" further substantiate that the freedom to use an alternate is with the consumer, not the vendor.

It is not as though alternate browsers are fee-based or licensed and having IE installed is hurting vendors of alternate vendors. Customers are free to install any browser of their choice. In my opinion, the EU would provide a greater service to the public by taking action against vendors who include pre-checked options with their software offerings, resulting in unwanted software and/or toolbars. Someone please refer the Commission to the Calendar of Updates "Installers Hall of Shame."

Incidentally, IE8 RC1 (Release Candidate) is now available for download. I certainly plan on upgrading IE8 Beta on Windows 7 to RC1 but will continue using Firefox. (Edit Note: I subsequently read on the IE Blog that I will need to wait for the final release of IE8 on Windows 7 Beta.)

*About Opera:
"Opera Software's first product, the Opera web browser version 2.1 for Windows, was released in 1997. Opera Software had an IPO in February 2004, and was listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange March 11, 2004."

Remember - "A day without laughter is a day wasted."
May the wind sing to you and the sun rise in your heart...

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