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Opera Files Antitrust Complaint in EU with Microsoft


By Al Jigong Billings

This seems to be the news of the hour. Opera has filed an antitrust complaint in the European Union against Microsoft around Internet Explorer and bundling. Opera has filed on the basis of both Microsoft's monopoly power with Windows in relation to Internet Explorer but also based on Internet Explorer's lack of standards support.

Opera has put up a press release about this:

The complaint describes how Microsoft is abusing its dominant position by tying its browser, Internet Explorer, to the Windows operating system and by hindering interoperability by not following accepted Web standards. Opera has requested the Commission to take the necessary actions to compel Microsoft to give consumers a real choice and to support open Web standards in Internet Explorer. "We are filing this complaint on behalf of all consumers who are tired of having a monopolist make choices for them," said Jon von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera. "In addition to promoting the free choice of individual consumers, we are a champion of open Web standards and cross-platform innovation. We cannot rest until we've brought fair and equitable options to consumers worldwide." Opera requests the Commission to implement two remedies to Microsoft’s abusive actions. First, it requests the Commission to obligate Microsoft to unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows and/or carry alternative browsers pre-installed on the desktop. Second, it asks the European Commission to require Microsoft to follow fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities. The complaint calls on Microsoft to adhere to its own public pronouncements to support these standards, instead of stifling them with its notorious "Embrace, Extend and Extinguish" strategy. Microsoft's unilateral control over standards in some markets creates a de facto standard that is more costly to support, harder to maintain, and technologically inferior and that can even expose users to security risks.

The CTO of Opera, Håkon Wium Lie, has made a video statement about it as well, embedded below.

Håkon Wium Lie has also published an open letter to the web community that is pretty brief.

Wired news has the story from the newswire as well with a bit more detail. An excerpt from this states:

Opera said it was asking EU regulators to apply the principles of their landmark antitrust ruling ordering Microsoft to market a version of Windows without its media player program, even though there were few takers when it later went on sale. EU antitrust chief Neelie Kroes had warned Microsoft that the order set a precedent for its future behavior in other areas - such as its Office software and its new Vista operating system. "Microsoft should bear this in mind," Kroes said. "The shop is still open, I can assure you ... there are a couple of other cases still on our desk."

Mary Jo Foley, who blogs for ZDnet on issues relating to Microsoft, has weighed in also on how she believes this to be a wrongheaded lawsuit:

Even though many Web developers and customers have been frustrated and upset over Microsoft’s failure to make IE “100 percent standards-compliant” (whatever that really means), Opera’s strategy to force the issue through the courts his is a really bad idea. Off the top of my head, here are just a few reasons why: 1. Should antitrust courts be the ones in charge of determining which versions of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), XHTML, Document Object Model (DOM) and other Web standards are the ones to which all browser/Web developers should be writing? Participants in various standards bodies can’t even agree among themselves which version of these standards is the best. How are judges supposed to wade through the browser-standards confusion in a good/fair way? 2. Would it be positive for customers if Microsoft were suddenly forced to create a version of IE that looked good on paper, in terms of more complete standards compliance, but which broke third-party and custom Web applications? Microsoft has argued that it is trying to avoid this situation with IE and is working on various ways it can make IE more standards-complaint without breaking existing apps, completely upsetting the partner/customer universe. 3. With Mozilla, Firefox has proved you don’t need government intervention to wrest a substantial percentage of the browser market from Microsoft. You just friends with deep pockets (like Google) and a community of dedicated developers — plus a guaranteed customer base who prefer anything other than Microsoft technologies.

I'm not sure that I really agree with her but I am also unconvinced that the EU is going to really want to get involved in this. Forcing changes in browsers through legislation or general governmental involvement is a bad direction to go in, I think. I understand the frustrations with IE and the business reasons for Opera to do this but do we really want governments to start legislating about web standards and the requirement of web standards? Who will be the official, government supported, standards bodies? Will it be the W3C only or will the WHATWG as well? Anyone else?

Watch for more news as this develops. This is likely to go interesting places before it is all over and to possibly take years to work through, based on the last couple of antitrust lawsuits with Microsoft.

Update: Todd Bishop of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer interviewed Håkon Wium Lie about this today as well.