Zero or five?

Last Friday a press release announced that the European Commission has sent a “Statement of Objections” to Microsoft. This is a formal notice that the EC is investigating objections made to Microsoft’s trade practices; in this case the tying of Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system.

The latest EC vs. Microsoft fight has entered its second round. Since browsers are involved, this conflict is important to web developers. If Opera gets its way, new Windows computers in the EU will have either zero or five browsers installed on them.

Opera’s complaint

In December 2007 Opera filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft, and asked the EC to take two actions:

  1. Unbundle IE from Windows.
  2. Require Microsoft to follow web standards.

At the time I wrote an entry in which I was noncommittal on the first point. Unbundling is logical but pointless because nobody cares which browser he uses. (Meanwhile I changed my mind: unbundling is logical but so impractical as to make it impossible.)

I was downright afraid of the second request. Essentially Opera requested the EC to judge web standards implementations, thus giving it power over web standards.

That power does not belong to the EC, but to the international web standards community. Would web standards become a political pawn? (Fortunately, the answer turns out to be No.)

The EC’s response

Friday’s press release is the next step in this fight. The crucial passage reads:

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.

Opera couldn’t resist crowing a bit; it’s obvious that this is a step in the right direction. Microsoft reacted businesslike, stating it has received the Statement of Objections and is preparing a response.

What happens next

Under EU trust law the EC will only decide the case after Microsoft has had the chance to defend itself in writing, and, on request, in a hearing. Microsoft is given eight weeks to prepare the written defense and request a hearing. The next round will therefore take place in mid-March or so.

The EC will take a political decision, not a legal one. Either Opera or Microsoft could take the case to a European court if they don’t like it.

The good news

Fortunately the EC has refused Opera’s request to “require Microsoft to follow fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities.” The relevant sentence reads:

The Commission is concerned that the ubiquity of Internet Explorer creates artificial incentives [...] to design websites or software primarily for Internet Explorer.

It’s not IE’s standards support that is judged here, but its ubiquity. In fact, web standards aren’t even mentioned.

We won’t have to worry about political influence on web standards themselves; the EC has rightly decided to deal with the competition issue only. That’s the good news.

The bad news

Now for the bad news. The more I think about it the more I feel that we can’t unbundle IE from Windows. If we did, any new Windows computer would have either zero or five browsers installed on it, and neither situation is ideal. On the other hand, the current situation isn’t ideal, either.

Zero

If we take the zero option, any new Windows box sold in the EU will have no browser installed on it.

How do you download a browser without a browser? I’m sure the clever crew here at QuirksMode can come up with a few solutions, but I’m also sure an average end user won’t have the faintest idea what to do.

Microsoft could help end users a bit by creating a pre-installed program that installs a browser for them — and guess which browser that would be? Thus it will have complied with the letter of the EC’s decision but will for all practical purposes have re-bundled IE. Besides, it will have genuinely served the end user’s needs.

Five

But if we want new computers to have a pre-installed browser, we have to install all five. We can’t install one, or even two, three or four; ending the practice of some, but not all, browsers being pre-installed is the whole point of the complaint.

The five option would work, kind of, but giving a novice computer user five browsers to choose from is deadly to the user-experience. (In fact, in all the scenarios I could come up with it is the end user who pays the price of unbundling.)

Zero or five?

This leads to a very confusing situation in which nobody wins and the end user loses. For these reasons I start to wonder if the unbundling can realistically be executed. Then again, if we do nothing Microsoft retains its advantage over the other browser vendors.

A nice little conundrum. I have no ready-made solution, so I pass the question on to the original plaintiff.

Opera, how would an end user get the Internet to work on his shiny new unbundled Windows computer? Which icon does he click? Which program starts up? What else does the end user have to do?

And what do you think, dear reader? Zero or five? Or one?

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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1 Posted by Alex Placito on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Really interesting; I've never thought of the alternatives available. I think many of us (speaking, I guess, collectively for Web Developers) just think of IE as "evil" and that MS should "unbundle" for the good of everyone. Now I'm definitely less sure after reading your post.

I don't think zero or five would be ideal, however zero sounds better than five from an end-user experience perspective. I think "forcing" the new computer user to pick from among web browsers to install is a good idea in the end: why shouldn't users become more educated in their choice of a window to the web? It could give a chance for each browser vendor to come up with their own marketing to present to the user in an equal setting (isasmuch as that will be possible).

Thanks for a really stimulating article, I look forward to hearing more about this and considering the implications for the future of Web Development and Web Standards.

2 Posted by Phil DeJarnett on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

There is an in-between option, although it isn't perfect either. MS could include a tool to choose WHICH browser was preferred by the user, and download and install that browser.

Any browser vendor could be allowed to participate, although I believe a basic level of security must be met by the browser before being included.

The real issue, of course, is that a user would need to know the difference between browsers. How would you know which to pick between:

* Microsoft Internet Explorer ("I'm using Microsoft, why isn't it already installed?")

* Mozilla Firefox ("What is Mozilla? Is this a kind of toy?")

* Apple Safari ("I'm not on an Apple, so that won't work.")

* Opera ("Opera? A Fat lady singing with a horned helmet?")

* Google Chrome ("Ooh, I love Google." Installs Chrome. "Why does the internet not work correctly?" Blames Microsoft. )

Obviously, I'm exaggerating a bit, but I don't know anyone who would know what a browser is, or how to select one, unless I gave them advice.

Remember, Linux comes with Firefox preinstalled, and Macs come with Safari. Both are better than IE, but neither OS really gives you a choice during installation, and neither is expected to.

3 Posted by Mike Taylor on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Zero Scenario: I'm trying to think about my parents on this one. I imagine them buying a new Vista or Windows 7 PC and being presented with a "choose your browser" wizard (or whatever). Ultimately they're going to choose IE because it's the name and browser they're familiar with.

Maybe, just maybe, my mom might pick "Fox Fire"--only because I installed it once for her. Chrome? Opera? Safari? Maybe on accident.

Five Scenario: Remember getting a PC in the mid 90's that came pre-installed with AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy trial software? My folks went with AOL because they had heard of it, and the rest ended up as bloatware stealing desktop real-estate because they didn't know you could delete short cuts (let alone uninstall programs). Different scenario, same end result. They'll use IE.

Personally, just give me IE and I'll go fetch my own web browsers and leave it alone until I do cross-browser testing.

4 Posted by Waylan on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

I don't really think it matters. For the most part, the people who would stumble over either the one or the five scenario are going to be buying hardware with windows pre-installed from Dell or HP or whatever vendors are hot these days (I haven't kept track as I custom build and install Linux). The vendors will be choosing and installing one browser of choice. Vendor A has Firefox, Vendor B Chrome, Vendor C Opera... with the option to choice a different browser as a custom ordering option - maybe.

The only time it's going to be a problem it when a user goes out and buys Windows off the self and installs it him/herself. But those people will generally have the knowhow and understanding to address the problem whether we get one or five. If they don't, they probably shouldn't be doing the windows install by themself to begin with.

I suppose as a middle ground, OEM distributions of Windows could have zero and retail distributions one. Sure, that one will likely be IE, but the person running the install can use IE to download and install his/her browser of choice and, as IE is not integrated into the OS, delete IE if s/he chooses to do so.

5 Posted by Sander Aarts on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

They should make it an option during installation, or right after as most PCs will be sold preinstalled, and make sure IE can be uninstalled.
Sure, a lot of people will choose IE because that's all they know. But at least they have the freedom of choice.

6 Posted by Oliver on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

What would the issue be with the EC declaring the W3C to be the arbiter of what comprises compliance with web standards?

All that matters is that browsers should adhere to the published specification and if legal enforcement is the route to this halcyon state so be it all the sooner.

"Microsoft could [...install...] a browser for them — and guess which browser that would be? Thus it will have complied with the letter of the EC’s decision but will for all practical purposes have re-bundled IE"

Not true: European law is construed teleologically: compliance would be construed with reference to the *spirit* of the ruling, not the letter.

7 Posted by schmo on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

I don't mind Konqueror or whatever being preinstalled in Linux distros. Yes, it sucks even more than IE, but it's really easy to replace in modern distros because they come with an integrated package manager, and most people install Firefox right away. For Windows users to be able to uninstall IE completely, Microsoft would need to open all interfaces to other browsers. As things are now, even if you painstakingly map all protocols and filetypes to another browser, there will always be some other program that invokes IE internally, so you're never safe from IE's security holes. That's the real issue.

8 Posted by Thomas Broyer on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Same as Waylan: most PCs are sold with pre-installed software (OpenOffice.org or MSOffice, Encarta or some other encyclopedia, an antivirus –generally a 90-days trial–, etc.) They now would come with a pre-installed browser at the discretion of the PC seller, it might be IE, or it might be Firefox (I doubt any other would be chosen).
...and browser installers can be found on the CDs bundled with "specialized" press, in case your PC comes with no browser installed (which would just be an heresy)

9 Posted by Andy Mo on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

I say 1. As much as opera doesn't like it, windows is owned by microsoft. I dont like IE so I installed another browser. My choice and it wasn't opera. Anyway, I dont like windows media player either, so i dont use it, I use another product. If users want to change they can, its not like MS are stopping anybody from doing anything. I dont see why they are going after MS either, why isnt apple getting sued? Adobe could argue that bundling movie maker and imovie is a monoploistic tactic, but who is really losing out? Opera: either quit whining and make a better product that nobody can live without or shut the hell up!

10 Posted by Pete B on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

I think Zero scenario sounds the most appropriate, but as you pointed out users need to be able to download a web browser.

Don't PC retailers bundle a load of software in with their products anyway. Another option could be to let microsoft bundle in a basic no-frills browser, like what WordPad is to Word, so people can at least get started.

11 Posted by Simon Farnsworth on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

I'd say one - I've never yet seen a PC installed with *just* the OEM Windows install, and no other junk from third-parties.

At a guess, some OEMs will use IE. Others will pick Firefox. A few will do deals with Opera to use their browser. Some OEMs may even pay for an OEM branded browser from someone like NetFront.

12 Posted by kL on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

For a second I thought that OEMs could be given that power, but OEMs will pick IE, because it's safe choice and because they'd fear repercussions from Microsoft.

I vote for Zero then.

It would be nice if application (or on-line service) that lets you choose browser could somehow collect information which choices were most successful (least uninstalls?) and rank offered browsers based on that.

Another option is to include very, very basic IE (e.g. no bookmarks, no printing) that's good only for discovering and downloading browser.

13 Posted by sango on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Thats what i always say. How do you download a browser without browser?! Ok there are ways, but you really have to know what to do. THats just dumb. Why should anyone want an OS without Browser.
The Problem with the Five Options is manyfolded, first of all, who says which Browser should be included, and why? And why 5 not 10? There are thousands of browser around. Then everyone would claim Windows to be bloatware.
And why should MS dump IE for lets say opera? Thats dumb too, they have their own product why include foreign stuff where the dont know s**t about.
Nobody tells GM to include Brakes from Toyota.

14 Posted by Vasil Rangelov on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Let's leave OEM's out of this, shall we? As said, they already install tons of crapware anyway, so they're not it. We're only talking about "fresh" Windows installations.

I think 1 is the best option, but with an option to uninstall it. What Windows has currently in "Add or Remove Programs" (or "Programs and Components" in Vista) is practically a "Remove shortcuts" option i.e. it removes the shortcuts and all, but not IE itself. If the EC forces MS to make IE removable, that's good enough for me. It's also good for the end user, who won't bother changing their browser if they're careless (and if they are indeed careless, they'd choose IE anyway, even if they had a choice).

Just to put OEM's back into the picture for a sec., if IE is removable, they can bundle another browser of choice if the browser vendor pays (you know that's how all crapware appears, right? Business deals…).

15 Posted by nico on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Completely agree with Andy. Apple is way more monopolistic then MS and nobody says anything... why? Is it because they're the cool kids in the block (or so they say... I'm not so convinced).
Apple ships QuickTime and Safari with MacOS, how's that different to shipping IE and Windows Media Player with Win?

IMHO MS has all the rights of putting its own browser in Windows, then the user can install another one if he/she likes.
Or we should complain because, just to say one, you can burn CDs directly from Explorer without using Nero or similar software.

That said, I use Fedora and I'm superhappy with that, so at the end of the day... I don't REALLY care!

16 Posted by NtroP on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Apple "bundles" Safari with OS X, but you can download FireFox and then drag Safari to the trash and it's gone. Try getting rid of IE for good - can't be done. Add to that the fact that IE breaks web standards in so many intentional ways and includes so many proprietary features that programming for IE, by definition, excludes other browsers.

I'd say the EU needs to mandate three things: 1) You must be able to completely uninstall IE. 2) The default IE install must comply with the current W3C standards out of the box. 3) Any proprietary add-ons (ActiveX, et al) must be downloaded and installed after the fact and not included by default.

Add to this a requirement that the PC vendors must get an OEM version of Windows that does not include IE (they can slipstream IE in if that's their choice) and that Microsoft may not tie any incentives to including IE, and I think we'll be on the right track to leveling the playing field for all browsers.

After that, it will be up to Opera to ensure that it follows W3C standards and gets its javascript behaving properly.

17 Posted by bruce on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Hi PPK

I work for Opera, but am commenting here as a private individual. This does not represent Opera's opinion or policy.

(Sorry for the B.S., but I'm not allowed to make any comments about the complaint itself for legal reasons).

If there were an unbundling, I imagine that OEMs would install the software they wanted to.

Here’s an article by a colleague of mine called How do I get a browser if Microsoft unbundles IE? http://my.opera.com/haavard/blog/2009/01/17/how-do-i-get-a-browser-if-microsoft-unbundles-ie

18 Posted by Daniele on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

The logical way to go is to make IE installation not enabled by default, leaving the option in the ever-present windows first-run screen to install it.

During the installation microsoft has to be crystal clear that IE is one of many programs that can be used to browse the web.

The installer should embed a mini-browser that activates when you choose the "what are the alternatives" option. From there you go and surf around searching for what you need.

Also if a user chooses to install IE and is connected to the web, the installer should download the latest version.

Basically the same thing IE8 does with search engines.

19 Posted by Julian Turner on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Let's require all operating system vendors (Windows, OSX, Linux distros etc) to bundle the latest versions of all 5 main (no, all) browsers, and require that the user is presented with an explanation page, where each browser vendor gets to sell its relative benefits. Then users can play until they find one that suits them. How hard would that be?

Who is the competition commission is trying to protect?

The consumer? Does the average consumer even understand, notice or care? I doubt it. Developers have done too good a job hiding browser differences.

The power-user? Not at all. We already know how to download or load from DVD other browsers, and we all probably have all 5 or more installed.

The developer? To make developer lives easier? The developer's life will never be easy.

Business? I doubt it. Ultimately, business users will continue with IE (which accounts for a large part of the IE population) and I doubt this investigation will change that.

Browser vendors? Probably. The point being that browser vendors need some market share to keep going, and keep Microsoft on its toes. However, let's not forget that Microsoft also led the way with some new powerful inclusions (e.g. HttpRequest) and contentEditable.

20 Posted by SLASHbSLASH on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Your thoughts regarging this matter amuse me, Peter-Paul Koch.

ZERO is the answer.

Stop worying and love the bomb.

21 Posted by gday on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

"We won’t have to worry about political influence on web standards themselves"

Yeah, because government-mandated standards for things like roads, hospitals, etc. are so terrible.

22 Posted by gday on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

"The more I think about it the more I feel that we can’t unbundle IE from Windows. If we did, any new Windows computer would have either zero or five browsers installed on it"

False.

OEMs would install a browser. One. The one they choose, not the one Microsoft chooses.

"Zero or five?"

This is a false dilemma, as explained above.

23 Posted by Eric Ferraiuolo on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

I was going to write what NtroP said:
http://www.quirksmode.org/blog/archives/2009/01/last_friday_a_p.html#c11989

Seems to be the most logical way to solve this issue. If IE along with other browser are forced to comply with some level of functionality i.e. W3C Standards, then who cares if IE (8) comes pre-installed on Windows boxes.

Also I agree is should be removable, which currently isn't the case, although being able to change your "default browser" has been a step in the right direction.

24 Posted by Mike Auteri on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

What if during the Windows installation there was a step where all relevant browsers were listed with a checkbox that the user could check or uncheck for browser installation?

25 Posted by Adam on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

Yes, there is a double standard with regard to Microsoft's ability to bundle software with Windows where Red Hat, Canonical, Apple, and others are not under scrutiny. Microsoft has been tried and convicted of abusing monopoly power through bundling to hurt competition in the market. To put it another way, they've lost the privilege.

26 Posted by Andrew on 19 January 2009 | Permalink

As much as I would like IE to die, this is pathetic. As many have mentioned, why not attack Apple/Safari as well? Because they don't have as much market share. If the MS-Apple share ratios were reversed, Opera'd be after Apple.

We could leave it to the OEM, but like Simon Farnsworth said, OEMs have become notorious for the extra junk they install on "new" computers.

I kind of like the idea of a "Browser Wizard" that helps the consumer understand the idea of a "browser" and choose the one they want. But like many here have mentioned, the consumer won't care and, even worse, will be inconvenienced. Most will click through and install IE because it's the Microsoft product. Those who do care could just as easily download and install their browser from its website using IE. And the understanding part won't happen if they click through it.

Including all 4 main browsers (GC isn't really a "main browser" in my mind, yet...) as default would just add to the general bloat and required space of a new install. And, again, the average user won't care, and at worst will be inconvenienced.

Begrudgingly, I say Win should be allowed to keep IE bundled. Users can switch if they want to/know how. If not, they're inconvenienced anyways.

27 Posted by Mark on 20 January 2009 | Permalink

The consensus here seems to be to (reluctantly) allow IE to be bundled with Windows. To me, that's not the important part. An OS needs to come with a browser, otherwise it's too much hassle. I don't mind if that's IE, as others have said, it is the MS product.

My problem with the current situation is, as a previous poster mentioned, that many other apps/parts of the OS use IE internally.

Unbundling, to me, would be including a browser with Windows. If the user changed the default browser, _use it_ in other apps (yes, even MS ones) that have browser functionality. That's the important part, to make the browser/internet functionality neutral/open.

28 Posted by Alan on 20 January 2009 | Permalink

I remember going to the store and buying Netscape Navigator 2-point-something off the store shelf. It was the "zero" world and it was kinda lame.

Perfect world:

1) Some centralized non-profit organization (Webkit guys, Mozilla, or whoever) releases a stand-alone, standards-compliant, multi-platform, high-performance "web engine" which does all of the HTML rendering, Javascript, plugins, etc. This engine is constantly maintained to comply with the newest standards, and can be updated on the user's machine as needed. It is not a browser, just a code library.

2) W3C backs this engine as the new "standard," and it is widely adopted and ultimately distributed with every major OS (including Windows).

3) A "browser" is a wrapper program which uses this standard web engine, and each browser must stand out through their feature sets. But websites will always be rendered as expected.

4) Competing engines could be implemented, so long as they pass the minimum requirements and follow the Web Engine interface.

5) HTML-based applications could also be easily made by having a ubiquitous Web Engine concept; apps that run independent of any browser since it's using the standard pre-installed engine.

Fantasy, yes, but it would be nifty.

29 Posted by SkidoodlE on 20 January 2009 | Permalink

@Alan, #28: In a perfect world, all browsers would be standards compliant. No need to tie yourself to one single engine which will clearly not cover everyone's needs.


@Andrew, #26:

Opera isn't after Microsoft. The EC is. Opera merely reported Microsoft's crimes to the EC. Similarly, if you witnessed a robbery, you would report it to the police. Yes, if Opera observed Apple breaking the law, I am sure they would report that, too, just like you would report a robbery to the police.

You would, right?

Your OEM comment is a red herring. If they install a lot of junk today, that does not mean that they are incapable of installing a browser. You are just trying to sidestep the issue.

30 Posted by ErnieS on 21 January 2009 | Permalink

I don't understand your resistance for societies to care about standards. Civilized contries have all sorts of regulations -- why not for web standards?

You seem to be defending a company's right to sell cars without seat belts. Cars that randomly kill pedestrians.

Or for your electricity company's right to change voltage every month to force you to buy new gear from them.

I, for one, think that standards will be an important part of this case. It's unlikely that the EU would have taken the case forward if they didn't see how MS is using non-compliance with standards to maintain their dominance in the market for browsers.

31 Posted by Martin Brown on 21 January 2009 | Permalink

I think this browser bundling is just a stupid diversion from the real issue. The problem here is not that MS bundles IE with Windows it is that Windows is so ubiquitous. I think the EU should stop avoiding the main issue and sort out the Windows V other OSs problem. For example, they could put a higher tax on Windows to give other OS developers a financial advantage, but I guess they don't have the political clout to do that.

32 Posted by Martin Brown on 21 January 2009 | Permalink

While the EU is at it, could they also tell Opera to stop bundling their Browser with Mobile phones.

33 Posted by Sander Aarts on 21 January 2009 | Permalink

Why do so many people start pointing at Apple each and everytime the EC complains about MS practices? This isn't about Apple! It's about Microsoft, who has the biggest market share by far in both the OS and browser markets, who has been found guilty before (more than once if I'm correct) by the EC for bad practices and against whom the EC has again recieved a complaint that they feel is worth investigating.

Sure, if Apple grows bigger, increases its market share and continues to behave the way it does, the chances that they too will recieve a statement of objection by the EC will become more likely (I believe they already recieved one once about iTunes, not sure though). But for now it's about MS and IE.

@Martin Brown: does Opera make mobile phones?

34 Posted by Jasper Woudenberg on 23 January 2009 | Permalink

I've encountered this debate in a number of other places, but I'm not to worried about it. If Microsoft isn't conforming to fair trade practices by bundling IE, and I believe this is the case, than they shouldn't be allowed to bundle it. Period.

I, like others, believe that when Windows won't come with a browser, OEMs will pre-install one (or more). Problem solved.

Maybe they will favour IE, I honestly don't know, but that isn't the point: The playing field is level again. Every browser manufacter will be able to make deals with OEMs.

Of course, ideally new versions of windows will include a Linux-like package manager. That would also solve the problem.

We're simply so used to Microsoft bundling IE, and using it one single time to get our favourite browser of the web after installing a fresh version of Windows, that we can't imagine it working in any other way. Relax, everything will work out.

35 Posted by Rory Fitzpatrick on 26 January 2009 | Permalink

A very informative and objective post, and as you say there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Forcing all users to choose a browser is a really bad idea. Computers should be easy to use, not require education on what a web browser is, no-one outside those that run/build/deign websites need to care and nor should they!

But then allowing IE to continue it's reign simply because people aren't even aware they're using it isn't ideal either.

So how do we give people the freedom to choose, without requiring the kind of education we have all benefited from? I have no idea...

36 Posted by jerone on 30 January 2009 | Permalink

My solution would be an install option at the beginning; asking what browser to select.
Off course IE should be at the top of the list (Windows is a M$ product) stated as the "preferred option".
Every beginner would just click next and even notice anything. An expert would just select his/hers preference.

This way an expert gets what he wants and a novice just gets something familiar until he knows what he wants.

Off course people should be able to uninstall IE!

37 Posted by luis on 1 February 2009 | Permalink

Peter-Paul: I think it is incorrect to assume that the press release's focus on ubiquity means that the court won't focus on standards in the remedy to the complaint. In particular, the court's decision in the WMP case depended on the fact that the ubiquity of WMP created a dependency on the windows media data formats. If WMP had used standard formats instead, the court quite possibly would have ruled differently, since the 'foreclosure' (aka lockout) effect on competitors would have been substantially lessened. But in this case the standard format already (roughly) exists- so the court may see that as a good solution to the potential damage (i.e., dependence on IE-only features) caused by ubiquity.

(I don't have time to elaborate on this quite at the moment, because I'm writing a paper for my anti-trust class on the issue, but if you're interested, please email- I'd be very happy to discuss the issue further after I turn the paper in tonight.)

38 Posted by Ankeet on 2 February 2009 | Permalink

It's not the inclusion of IE that's the problem, it's the "tying" of the browser to the OS.
Macs come with Safari, KDEs come with Konqueror, why shouldn't Windows come with IE? I remember recently reading that the latest beta for IE8 is practically the same as the release version, and when they build it into Windows 7, it'll just include some special Windows-IE features. Maybe that's where they have to cut the cord.

39 Posted by Tharaka Devinda on 3 February 2009 | Permalink

I don't think the "five" option is logical at all. The incompetency of Opera is creating such a mess.

Let the user choose at the time of purchase. That will cure all things. And why don't I hear Mozilla shouting for this, Exactly! Its Open Source, compare the number of users on Firefox and Opera. Opera Sucks, BIGTIME!

So Let users choose. I can't even start to imagine a PC with five browsers installed and one of them being stupid opera

40 Posted by Sander Aarts on 3 February 2009 | Permalink

@Tharaka Devinda:
Has Opera taken your boy/girl friend or what?

41 Posted by Soaa- on 4 February 2009 | Permalink

Skipping the whole zero or five debate, I'd like to bring in a different perspective on things:

The plus side of Opera's complaint and the EC's subsequent action is that awareness is raised, that there is definitely a problem with IE's unfair competition.

The bad side is that it places competition as the main focus, which I believe is a fairly minor issue compared to people's real frustration with IE: its incompatibility with web standards. This wrong focus leads to the dilemma: all or none.

My opinion is this: I'll be pretty darn happy with IE if it can get itself up to par with other browsers, in terms of standards compliance for both CSS and JS, and in terms of performance. Heck, if it gives me a killer feature on top of that, it might even replace whatever I'm using now. Yay for one less piece of software to install.

The problem is the combination of dominance over the market and poor standards support. Dominance over the market isn't a problem easily solved, for practical reasons. Poor standards support though, only takes an honest effort from Microsoft.

Finally, the author of this blog sure won't support even compliance of web standards across all browsers. His traffic would go down.

42 Posted by unscriptable on 7 February 2009 | Permalink

To all the people who argue that Apple/Safari is the same situation as MS/IE:

This is a ridiculous comparison. Do you have no memory of the last 6+ years?!?! MS was found guilty of abusive monopolistic practices! Do you not remember when Dell executives confirmed that MS bullied them into removing all browsers except IE? Do you not remember when other vendors were threatened with non-preferred Windows pricing if they offered Linux pre-installed?

That's what this is all about: MS has repeatedly ignored both the EC and US anti-trust commissions and will continue to do so if we don't take action.

As to the Zero or Five decision:

All that is needed to choose a browser is a registry of authorized browsers and an HTML rendering engine (MSHTML, for instance) that can retrieve the list of authorized browsers and present them to the user. Add a nice UI to the downloader (an FTP client) and the solution is complete.

With a bit of creativity, we could come up with a simple statement at the beginning of the list that alerts the user to the fact that all of the listed browsers are not only compatible with their system, but are also tested/authorized by some standards organization....

Now ....hmmmmm.... what standards organization would that be????

43 Posted by slxception on 15 February 2009 | Permalink

There are a few problems with this: There were a few programs that rely on IE's engine and no other browser. I remember that used to annoy me that they required IE regardless of browser I had. This may a small factor on third-party software developers, though I think it has been reduced due to web standards, and allowing the user to use the browser of his/her choice. But if legacy software is installed that required IE, this may be an obstacle. Zero is not an option.

Not counting Google (since it's still in beta), all the other browsers are cross platform except IE. IE used to be cross platform, though it was not a true rendition on other OSes, but that changed when they withdrew from Linux and from Apple. Firefox and Opera were cross-platform from the beginning; Safari has recently been available for Windows. What's really best for IE is to return to a cross-platform browser, but as true on each platform, like how Firefox is now.

A side note: I wish Apple would allow other browsers on their iPhones. Safari is a POS, as I've crashed it too many times.