Opera Complaint Against Microsoft Recalls Browser Wars

Windows operating system

In a lawsuit filed with the European Commission, Opera said Microsoft is hindering Internet browser competition by tying its Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) to Windows and hindering interoperability by failing to follow accepted Web standards.

"We are filing this complaint on behalf of all consumers who are tired of having a monopolist make choices for them," Jon von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera, said in a statement. "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 asked the Commission to force Microsoft to unbundle IE from Windows and include alternative browsers pre-installed on the desktop. It also asked the Commission to require Microsoft to follow open Web standards.

Microsoft should "adhere to its own public pronouncements to support these standards, instead of stifling them with its notorious 'Embrace, Extend and Extinguish' strategy," Opera said in a statement. "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."

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Microsoft countered that consumer choice is not lessened with Windows OS and IE.

"It's important to note that computer users have complete freedom of choice to use and set as default any browser they wish, including Opera, and PC manufacturers can also preinstall any browser as the default on any Windows machine they sell," Jack Evans, a Microsoft spokesperson, said.

"Microsoft is committed to ensuring that freedom through our Windows Principles. IE has been an integral part of the Windows operating system for over a decade and supports a wide range of web standards," Evans added. "We will of course cooperate with any inquiries into these issues, but we believe the inclusion of the browser into the operating system benefits consumers, and that consumers and PC manufacturers already are free to choose to use any browsers they wish."

The European Court ruled in September that Microsoft has illegally bundled its Media Player with Windows.

Opera's lawsuit was endorsed by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), a non-profit association that promotes interoperability and competition. It's members include Microsoft rivals Adobe, IBM Oarcle and Red Hat.

"By tying its Internet Explorer product to its monopoly Windows operating system and refusing to faithfully implement industry accepted open standards, Microsoft deprives consumers of a real choice in Internet browsers," the ECIS said. "Browsers are the gateway to the Internet. Microsoft seeks to control this gateway," said Thomas Vinjie, a ECIS spokesman and legal counsel.

The lawsuit recalled an earlier era when Microsoft was accused of vanquishing Netscape and its once-popular Navigator browser through monopolistic practices.

In 1998, U.S. Justice Department won a major judgment against Microsoft for competing illegally against Netscape. However, Microsoft reached a settlement in the case in which it agreed to share its application programming interfaces with other companies.

But times have changed, say some Microsoft watchers, as more competition has developed in the marketplace and Microsoft has toned down some of its aggressive techniques.

"You can do pretty much whatever you want in terms of getting your customers browsers. Things have gotten a lot better over the years." said Richard Opal, vice president at Peters and Associates, Elmhurst, Ill.

Mukul Krishna, a global manager for digital media with research firm, Frost and Sullivan of Palo Alto, Calif., also said that competition has lessened Microsoft's browser stranglehold and Microsoft itself has accepted that fact.

"We are seeing a more collaborative atmosphere," Krishna said. "We are seeing more browsers like Firefox and, as they get better, there is more competition. Microsoft is aware of that."