Opera vs Microsoft anti-trust complaint
written by craig, 14 December 2007
Opera is taking on the might of Microsoft and Internet Explorer: Opera files antitrust complaint with the EU. Opera’s primary goals are that the European Commission obligates Microsoft to:
- unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows and/or carry alternative browsers pre-installed, and
- follow fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities
Whilst I agree in spirit with their complaint, I would be surprised if any action were taken.
Unbundling IE from Windows
Opera has asked the Commission to apply their Windows Media Player principles to Internet Explorer. That sounds reasonable, however, it’s not as clear-cut:
- Arguably, no one needs a media player, but a web browser is an essential part of any OS. Would you use an OS that didn’t have a browser – after all, no one’s buying the version of Windows without WMP? It could be argued that a web browser is an OS when you consider the number of people using online applications such as GMail.
- If you unbundle IE from Windows, then how can I download an alternative browser?! If you offer multiple browsers in Windows, then every manufacturer will want theirs on the desktop, leading to user confusion and even more bloatware.
- In the case of Media Player, MS killed the commercial market for audio and video players (even though that market was almost dead). By offering a good free browser (at that time), MS thwarted Netscape’s ambitions. That made a good case for anti-competitive legislation, except that it happened a long time ago and Netscape had become an arrogant company with a poor-quality browser. Microsoft have been accused of the same, but they now have viable competition from Mozilla, Opera and others. Everyone accepts that web browsers are free and there is plenty of choice; there is no market for Microsoft to kill.
- IE is tightly integrated within Windows and Microsoft have always claimed this is the case. Whilst I do not believe that it can never be removed, it would be tough and many third-party applications rely on IE too.
I’m not saying that unbundling is an impossible dream, but the whole situation could get a little silly. After all, Firefox is bundled with Ubuntu – should they remove it or offer a choice too?
Follow web standards
Every browser manufacturer should adhere to web standards. It would make web development much easier and users would experience a site in the same way no matter what browser they used. The reality is more complex:
- W3C standards are not law; they are recommendations.
- Standards are a moving target: features and added, amended, and removed. Even Opera does not support everything.
- The W3C is slow; a browser that adhered only to W3C standards could not run AJAX applications. The manufacturers – including Microsoft – have always implemented browser innovations that have been adopted by the W3C later.
Opera may have had a chance in 2005 when IE had been dormant for 5 years, but IE7 has been available for over a year and Microsoft have announced IE8. Whilst their support for web standards is flaky, they are slowly moving in the right direction.
Finally, if IE supported the same level of web standards as Firefox or Opera, all the browsers would basically be the same. Each would competing on their prettiness and the user’s personal preference for minor features. If that were the case, would I even bother using Opera?
Too little, too late?
My life would be a lot easier without IE and I can understand Opera’s frustration. However, my life would be easier still if there were just one browser to support and I didn’t have to test in Opera!
Opera’s complaints may have been reasonable a few years ago. However, Microsoft’s lethargy with IE has allowed Opera, Firefox, Safari and others to shine. Users now have a real choice and it’s up to the community to educate them about the options available.
IE’s dominance has ended; the browser market is more open and exciting that it has ever been.