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EC makes demands on IE; Google and Mozilla party like it’s 1999.

Is the European Commission living in the past?  For a few weeks now, news outlets have been reporting that the Bureaucrats of Brussels are planning to essentially re-open the browser anti-trust case against Microsoft, demanding that Microsoft allow the browser to be wholesale replaced in the operating system.

Wasn’t this resolved a decade ago?  Apparently not. 

Now Google has applied to join the case, and Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker has written a moronic set of “principles” that Microsoft should be required to comply with. 

  • “Windows cannot condition a person’s ability to stay secure and / or update Windows on the use of IE.” So Microsoft is supposed to test Windows Update with every browser on the market?  And what if the browser being tested for is flawed? Is Microsoft supposed to wait until their competitors have fixed that flaw before shipping?
  • “Functionality of the operating system cannot be degraded for users of alternative browsers.” And what is Microsoft to do when the browser manufacturer chooses not to implement certain Windows features – perhaps because that manufacturer has chosen a cross platform product strategy rather than a Windows specific strategy?
  • “Option to download other browsers must be presented when a user is updating IE.” Should they also be required to provide you with an advertising budget?
  • “Option to download other browsers must be presented when a user is updating Windows.”  See the ad budget comment above.  Perhaps you would also like Microsoft to pay for your hosting as well. 
  • “Windows may not include a browser.”  Yeah, and a help system, and a file system.  Shoot, let’s go all the way back to 1960. An OS is really nothing more than a memory manager and a program loader, after all. 
  • “Microsoft must educate people about other browsers (or face fines!).”  And what ever happened to free speech?

Good God Mitchell! The market should be a meritocracy, not a bizarre mind-warping set of government legislated rules requiring one competitors products to be bundled into another.

And speaking of the market, it works well today. It’s efficient and unforgiving.  IE has been crap for a lot of years, and share is shifting away from it.  I use every browser on my PC’s these days (except Opera – could never see the point), and my current favourite is Chrome.  Just yesterday I installed Safari 4 (nice job, Apple!).  Getting and installing these browsers was easy … that’s the point of the Internet, and folks at Google and Mozilla know this.

Why don’t these folks demand the same of Apple on the Mac? How come Apple can actively deny every application to the App Store to deliver an alternate browser on iPhone?  Why isn’t the same standard being applied to every mobile handset manufacturer?  What will the world of netbook PC’s look like if every netbook must boot with every available browser, giving the user choice?

Aren’t those all “anti-competitive” acts that foreclose user choice?  At least on Windows users have a choice.  On every other platform users cannot even install an alternate browser.

So what would it really mean if Mozilla and Google got their way?  Modern browsers are integrated into every level of the operating system. Imagine the scenario where every time a competitor ships a new browser for Windows, Microsoft is required to retest the operating system and re-release it in order to be compliant with the law. The standard being demanded for Microsoft is egregious, excessive, and will cripple their ability to ever again ship an update to Windows on time.  Not that they’ve ever been good at shipping on time, mind you… but this could be the straw that finally breaks the camels back. 

And perhaps… just maybe… that’s what the folks in MountainView really want.  Ya think so?

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{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Tim Panton February 25, 2009, 6:39 am

    Sure the commission is living in the past, it is (still) trying to punish Microsoft
    for earlier misdemeanors (from which MS is still profiting).

    Whilst this is backward looking behavior, it does have benefits for the future, companies will know that there are real risks involved in monopolistic practices (at least in the EU).

    When Apple has >80% of any sizeable market, you can expect the commission to take an interest.

    I am astonished that people are still peddling the 'perfect unregulated market' hypothesis.

  • Alec February 25, 2009, 10:45 am

    Sure, Tim. But Microsoft’s share of browser is now 68% and declining. I’m not buying the argument that the EU need do anything at this point.

  • Greg Pettit February 26, 2009, 10:53 am

    Tim, I understand what you’re saying (catching up with earlier misdemeanors) but to me it’s not the logical approach even if it’s the “human nature” approach. It never benefits anyone to follow a grudge. If the black and white logic dictates that this sort of punishment is hypocritical (as per Alec’s article), creates a giant leap backwards, or negatively impacts the consumer, then the gray area of human emotion (ie. the revenge motive) must be set aside.

    The real consideration is simply, “is there an inseperability of the browser from the OS anymore?” and the answer is clearly “no, the two are certainly separate.” Despite the 68% share (worldwide mind you), Windows IE users seem to understand that they have the option of FireFox (even if they are less aware of other browsers) but often simply don’t want to bother because IE is working fine for them.

    It all seems like a pointless waste of time and money. I had almost forgotten that browser wars exist (and what better proof is there that it SHOULD be a dead issue than that exact sentiment, shared by many?).

    Yet, suddenly we’re surrounded by it again. In our own corporate blog, our President has written an article about how the implementation of the so-called “Next Generation” Java plug-in causes java applet loading to behave differently between browsers… and this time IE is compliant and FF/Chrome have a bit of bugfixing and/or catching up to do. And once FF/Mozilla are onboard, no doubt IE8 and its well-publicized compatibility model will be on the offending side again. Browser agnosticism shouldn’t be such a dream… but with this new round bickering, who has time to make sure they’re on the same page and all offering their consumers the right experience?


  • Graham Shaw February 28, 2009, 9:48 am


    We could certainly save a lot of money on judges and lawyers if, as a society, we were to give up the idea of punishing past misdemeanors. Prisons too.

    Personally I don't think it would work.

    If there is one principle to be upheld here, it is that companies should not be allowed to profit from their own wrongdoing. That is the only way you will deter them from doing it again, and again, and again.

  • Alec February 28, 2009, 11:01 am

    Graham, how would you uphold this principle in this circumstance? Are you saying that the DOJ oversight of Microsoft's business, and the consent decree imposed are insufficient?

  • Greg Pettit February 28, 2009, 7:56 pm

    Graham, I can't tell if we're agreeing or disagreeing!

    To clarify, though– I don't think offenders should be punished twice for the same felony. They should certainly be punished (or absolved) properly, though.

  • deranjer March 22, 2010, 7:35 pm

    The EU is acting extremely stupid.. even the recent law past that required IE to offer browser choice was idiotic… Microsoft MAKES Windows, there is NO reason they have to offer someone a choice besides IE. IF, and that is NOT happening (for the most part) Microsoft actively blocked other browsers from operating on MS Windows… THEN I would have a problem… but users have a perfectly good choice to switch browsers, Microsoft does NOT need to advertise for other companies! Thats insane! As well, the browser is VERY integrated into windows, for all the help files, windows update, Outlook, and much more… I do wish that part would change, but that is Windows’ prerogative… if you don’t like it, use Linux.

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