Defending the Indefensible
Published at 8:07pm on 15 Dec 2007
Many users and developers alike would like to see Microsoft improve its browser, or replace it with something better, but should this really be a legal matter? Is it right to force them to do this in a court of law?
The makers of Opera, a free cross-platform web browser that competes with Interner Explorer have filed a complaint with the European Commission accusing Microsoft of stifling competion.
The gist of the complaint is that they feel that bundling Internet Explorer with Windows gives Microsoft an unfair advantage in the browser wars, and they would like the Commission to force Microsoft to separate IE from Windows, and pre-install alternative browsers.
This is similar in spirit to the previous suits against Microsoft with respect to their bundling of Windows Media Player with Windows. In response, Microsoft has stated that "We believe the inclusion of the browser into the operating system benefits consumers, and that consumers and PC manufacturers already are free to choose any browsers they wish."
I think Microsoft is absolutely right that bundling a browser with the OS is good for their users. Apart from anything else, if your PC doesn't have a browser included by default, how are you supposed to download one? And if it is to bundle 3rd party browsers, which ones? and is Microsoft supposed to offer support for these 3rd party products? It's absurd.
As a web developer I despise IE, and would prefer that almost any other browser came bundled as standard on Windows. But from an objective standpoint, I don't see how anyone can reasonably expect Microsoft to either sell their OS without a browser, or to include unsupported 3rd party browsers as standard options.
I've always thought this antitrust thing is a bit of a smokescreen. No user is really bothered that Microsoft bundles its software in its OS - after all you don't see these criticisms being launched at Apple for including Safari in Mac OS, or SUSE for bundling Konqueror in their Linux distribution.
It would be great if Microsoft improved IE's standards support, or weakened the bond between IE and Windows making it easier to uninstall it. But improving user experience is a battle to be fought between users and service providers. If you don't like it, vote with your wallet. I fail to see why the European Commission should be getting involved. If a lot of users hated IE they could and would switch to something else, but the majority of users simply don't care (and why should they?).
Internet Explorer is the most popular browser because Windows is the most popular OS, and since they own that OS, Microsoft gets to choose the default browser. This saves them a lot of money on promoting their browser, but its one of the benefits of owning your own platform.
If Opera et al want to get the same product placement advantages that Microsoft has then they can either develop their own OS and compete with Windows (as Apple have done) or they can cosy up with some other OS providers who don't have their own browser yet and get them to bundle Opera (as in fact they have done with numerous mobile operators).
No company likes being the minor player in their market, especially if they believe (quite rightly) that they have the superior product. But trying to get your business rivals prosecuted because they are more successful than you is frankly a bit sickening.
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I totally agree
One has to stand up for Microsoft on this one.
First they came for the Microsofts, but I did nothing, for I am a Mac user.
Then they came for Apple...Reply
Posted by David at 12:19pm on 16 Dec 2007
I wholeheartedly agree
There's a lot of things that Microsoft do wrong, but this complaint by Opera is quite petty.
Shades is a great little app btw!Reply
Posted by a reader at 9:43pm on 20 Feb 2008
We have to use IE
I have found that I have to use IE on a PC for Windows updates as other browsers dont have activex support. So actually there is no choice unless you don't want updates. It's also required for some online bank sites where other browsers are not supported (i.e. dont work).Reply
Posted by a reader at 1:53pm on 09 Apr 2008
Re: We have to use IE
a reader wrote:
"I have found that I have to use IE on a PC for Windows updates as other browsers dont have activex support. So actually there is no choice unless you don't want updates. It's also required for some online bank sites where other browsers are not supported (i.e. dont work)."
Ah, well actually that is really the only compelling argument *in favour* of Opera's position. Because Microsoft bundles its browser with Windows, banks and other big companies often just *assume* that users will have IE, and so don't bother catering to those that don't.
If IE didn't come as standard then this wouldn't happen. But as more computer users are buying Macs, and more Windows users are switching to Firefox, these big companies are generally seeing the light and fixing their sites to work cross-platform.
I think it is up to customers to make it clear to these companies that they want to choose their browser, not Microsoft.Reply
Posted by Nick at 1:51pm on 13 Apr 2008