Antitrust Law Is Supposed To Protect Consumers, Not Competitors

from the blast-from-the-past dept

Opera has filed a complaint in Europe accusing Microsoft of violating antitrust laws there. The arguments in this complaint appear to be very similar to the arguments in the original antitrust case against Microsoft a decade ago, which some states are still pushing here in the United States. I don't know much about European antitrust law, but it's a little hard to take Opera's policy argument seriously. Mozilla has reported that Firefox's market share is 28 percent in Europe, a number that has been growing steadily for most of this decade. And Apple recently joined the fray by launching a Windows version of its Safari browser. There is, in short, no shortage of competition in the browser market, and that's been reflected in the steady erosion of Microsoft's market share. Now, it is true that the situation is somewhat unfair to Opera. Microsoft's ability to bundle Internet explorer with Windows obviously gives it a big advantage (as does Apple's ability to bundle Safari with Macs and iPhones). But antitrust law was never designed to make the market "fair" in this sense, and as Firefox demonstrates, those disadvantages are far from insurmountable. Antitrust law is about protecting consumers, not competitors. As far as I can see, there's nothing stopping consumers who are dissatisfied with Internet Explorer from downloading Firefox, Safari, or Opera. Indeed, a quarter of European Internet users have done just that. Perhaps the money Opera is currently spending on lawyers would be better spent on figuring out why Mozilla has been so much more successful than Opera at attracting new users.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Matt, Dec 13th, 2007 @ 4:14pm

    hmm

    It's tough to stand in on this issue in all fairness, Tim. On one hand, forcibly bundling it in windows is most undeniably an abuse of non-linux desktops. Equilaterally is the issue that most people do not have the technical knowhow to download a browser without having one first. Those would be the same people who would use IE simply because its there, and they don't even know of the inherent security flaws in using IE.

    From the EU side, the latest antitrust lawsuit opened the floodgates to stuff like this, so on that side of the pond it is open grounds to hit MS for stuff like this. Groklaw references that well here -> http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20071213104023255

    Personally, an unbundling, or forcing of options of what browser makes perfect sense on a "supposedly-open" proprietary system such as Windows. That is, as long as you don't only have the choices of "Microsoft A", or "Microsoft B". Apple always ships 1 specific browser with their system, and you don't hear of 80 million problems with it, no? (same for linux and/or anything else that fixes problems much faster). So why should IE be given the excuse on that?

     

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  2.  
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    Daz, Dec 13th, 2007 @ 4:26pm

    Missed the point

    The lack of adherence to web standards is the real point. If IE supported web standards then users really would be free to choose. As it implements its own 'standards' and create sproblems for people who don't choose IE, bundling it with the OS is helping create a monopoly for an inferior product. Protecting consumers means either unbundling IE or making it web standards compliant (not its own proprietary standards)

     

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  3.  
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    gee, Dec 13th, 2007 @ 4:46pm

    it is antitrust

    just because they don't have 100% market share doesn't mean it isn't antitrust. The problem isn't that there is nothing else available, it is that Microsoft makes it seem like there is nothing else available.

    MS still keeps a high market share by forcing users to use IE in order to do any windows or office updates. This is obviously a way to keep their market shares up, which should or may be illegal

     

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    Mike (profile), Dec 13th, 2007 @ 4:56pm

    Re: it is antitrust

    just because they don't have 100% market share doesn't mean it isn't antitrust.

    Antitrust is supposed to stop monopolistic behaviors. If there's serious competition it's hard to see how there's an argument that you have a monopoly.

    The problem isn't that there is nothing else available, it is that Microsoft makes it seem like there is nothing else available.

    That would be a lot more convincing without the numbers Tim noted in the post. Other browsers have significant marketshare.

    MS still keeps a high market share by forcing users to use IE in order to do any windows or office updates. This is obviously a way to keep their market shares up, which should or may be illegal

    But does it hurt consumers? Who cares if it bumps up their share numbers if the overall impact is minimal on consumers?

     

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  5.  
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    Kim Karlsen, Dec 13th, 2007 @ 5:04pm

    Hmm...

    Tim, I guess you're not a lawyer ;)

     

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  6.  
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    Ernst, Dec 13th, 2007 @ 6:26pm

    Re: Re: it is antitrust

    Actually, anti-trust laws today are not only against preventing monopolies. They exist to discourage almost any restriction on free trade or competition (This is, in part, why they have been some abuses of such laws. The laws don't only become applicable where a company is "close" to a monopoly (or would have a monopoly but for the law). I will note that early laws did target only the latter kind of situations.

     

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  7.  
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    Not Bob, Dec 13th, 2007 @ 6:55pm

    But wait...

    I have seen "forced bundling" noted quite a few times here and elsewhere. So what if Microsoft didn't bundle IE with Windows? No browser at all, that's what, and no easy way to get one. Sure, you could go buy it from the store, but I said "easy way".

    Okay then, should they bundle their competitors browsers? Why? Who's going to reimburse them for the expense of adding the other browsers? Mozilla won't want to: nor Apple, nor Opera, nor anyone else, I'm sure.

     

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    atomatom, Dec 13th, 2007 @ 7:37pm

    "Perhaps the money Opera is currently spending on lawyers would be better spent on figuring out why Mozilla has been so much more successful than Opera at attracting new users."

    Here's my take: Firefox has always been free, while Opera was trialware until 2000 and ad-sponsored until 2005? When you've got a choice between IE (crappy, no ads), Mozilla/Firefox (great, no ads) and Opera (great, with ads) it's no surprise why Opera has been slow to gain market share. A lot of Mozilla/Firefox users migrated years ago and the position Firefox is in now is not one you get to without serious momentum. I think Opera's biggest mistake was not going completely free a long time ago. I've talked to people who thought Opera still had ads or was even still trialware! They could use some better marketing.

    Widespread adoption by the open source community is also probably a large factor in Firefox's success.

     

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  9.  
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    Damien, Dec 13th, 2007 @ 8:57pm

    "Equilaterally is the issue that most people do not have the technical knowhow to download a browser without having one first. Those would be the same people who would use IE simply because its there, and they don't even know of the inherent security flaws in using IE."
    I can build a computer from scratch, phase-cool overclock a system no problem, and manage design, deploy, and manage a 60k hit per day website and even I don't have a clue how to access the web without a browser...

    If I don't know how to do this readily I'm betting 95%+ of the computer using public wouldn't know where to start.

     

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  10.  
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    Helio, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 12:09am

    Re: But wait...

    I agree with "Not Bob" and Mike.

    At the moment that the practice doesn't hurt customers the antitrust laws should not be applicable.

    Additionally, there is no reason why Microsoft should bundle their competitors browsers, nobody would pay them for the expense.

    This is all about companies that want to earn in the court what they haven't earned by building a better product. And about greedy lawyers that see the opportunity to make some good bucks just because the name Microsoft is involved.

    Just an illustration of what I mean better products: I have been trying the use of Opera in a MotoQ smartphone (most people in the area know that Pocket IE is very limited). Well, the software is installed in the phone without a decent users manual, without a decent help, and has a number of keys on the keyboard marked as special functions so that when the user presses those keys in order to fill a field in the screen the software responds in the most strange ways. It turns out that before filling forms in the browser you need to press a specific key in order to turn-off the special shortcuts mode. THIS IS USER-HOSTILE !!! I don't know if in Opera for PC it also exists, but it is clear that whoever programmed that thought as a programmer, not as a user.

    I would suggest that Microsoft would stop bundling the Explorer in Windows, and instead of that, would bundle 3 menu links: Download IE, download Opera, download Mozilla - believe me, the market shares would stay nearly the same.

     

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  11.  
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    Shelley, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 7:09am

    It's not the bundling that's the issue

    Most of you keep focusing on the bundling. Opera didn't just mention the bundling, it mentioned the lack of support for standards. This is the key item.

    While IE continues using proprietary means to provide what could be provided using standards-based technologies, and continues to have dominant marketshare, developers have to restrict development to the lowest common denominator--IE.

    What this does is undercut the efforts the other browser creators make implementing the standards, undervaluing their work while Microsoft blithely continues doing its own proprietary thing.

    MS has representatives on the standards teams, but makes absolutely no promise to support the standards. Instead, the company focuses more on undercutting those same standards. It's almost like Microsoft attends the meetings to see what the other browser creators will be doing, and then goes back and does its own thing.

    In the meantime, the state of art does not grow because we're held back by Microsoft's determination to undercut the standards and force IE proprietary approaches.

    All of this combined sure strikes me as antitrust behavior. We should be supporting Opera, not condemning it.

     

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  12.  
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    Tim Lee, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 7:45am

    Re: It's not the bundling that's the issue

    the state of art does not grow

    I don't know, the state of the art in web development sure seems to have advanced in the last few years. Ajax programming techniques, for example, seem to have grown out of changes pushed by Microsoft in the late 1990s. It's certainly conceivable that things would have advanced faster if Microsoft did a better job of paying attention to standards, but do we really want a European judge in the position of dictating which features IE has to support?

     

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  13.  
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    4-80-sicks, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 8:38am

    no browser?

    MS still keeps a high market share by forcing users to use IE in order to do any windows or office updates.

    It's called Automatic Updates. I don't even have iexplore.exe on my computer (removed from my Windows install CD, so it's never there), yet am fully patched. If you prefer an actual program rather than a Control Panel applet, I recommend Daisy [ http://vtntug.w2k.vt.edu/daisy.htm ](XP and earlier only.)

    For better or for worse, the internet can be accessed on a Windows machine without a browser very simply, due to IE's deep integration with the operating system: Simply enter the URL in the address bar of any Windows Explorer window. That integration is a major security flaw, but it's there and can be used once to visit getfirefox.com or whatever you prefer.

     

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  14.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 11:18am

    Re: It's not the bundling that's the issue

    Explain that to me. What douse IE do that forces people to program for it? As far as I know HTML is just HTML, Java is Java, ASP is ASP. What douse IE use that's non standard?

    I have FireFox at home, I don't use it too often but it douse serve a function. I can see the web sites just as good with FireFox as with IE.

    To point agean at bundling, Linux bundles FireFox, MAC bundles Safari. The bundling claim should not be involved in any way.

     

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  15.  
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    Pet Wombat, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: It's not the bundling that's the issue

    Apparently you are not a web programmer.

    1. Back in the early to mid 90's when all other browsers were adding support for CSS, MS stopped all real development on IE, letting it languish as an HTML-only platform until the release of IE 5 in 2000 - an eternity in web-years (some will argue IE 3-4 had CSS but the implementation was so buggy and incomplete, I defy anyone to show me a CSS page that worked with it). Consequently, every web page created using CSS also had to have an IE HTML-only version - thus doubling (or more) the level of effort needed to launch a web site.

    With the release of IE 5 & 6, MS implemented an incorrect box model, and an non-standard DOM, again requiring programmers to write multiple versions of everything.

    Lest anyone get there knickers in a twist, yes, other browsers have had many instances of bad or incomplete implementations - the difference is those browser developers a.) worked with the standards groups to iron-out differences, and b.) released regular updates to fix the problems web developers encountered. Not so with MS.

    2. You may not remember Sun Micro's law suit with MS over Java. MS took the Java platform and modified it into a Windows-only implementation, so that all Java development on Windows would only work with Windows and IE. In a decision that stunned the web community, the court apparently failed to understand public licensing and allowed MS to get away with it.

    3. Even HTML was modified. Pick up any HTML reference and you will see a section of IE-only commands. For a while, other browser developers did the same, but due to the unfavorable response from web programmers, everyone but IE stopped implementing proprietary command structures.

    There is far too much to go into here, but that should at least give you a brief understanding of the annoyance MS has caused programmers for years. Opera's contention that some programmers/companies are not willing to do multiple versions of every site and therefore only develop IE versions is probably correct.

     

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  16.  
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    Pet Wombat, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: It's not the bundling that's the issue

    Apparently you are not a web programmer.

    1. Back in the early to mid 90's when all other browsers were adding support for CSS, MS stopped all real development on IE, letting it languish as an HTML-only platform until the release of IE 5 in 2000 - an eternity in web-years (some will argue IE 3-4 had CSS but the implementation was so buggy and incomplete, I defy anyone to show me a CSS page that worked with it). Consequently, every web page created using CSS also had to have an IE HTML-only version - thus doubling (or more) the level of effort needed to launch a web site.

    With the release of IE 5 & 6, MS implemented an incorrect box model, and an non-standard DOM, again requiring programmers to write multiple versions of everything.

    Lest anyone get there knickers in a twist, yes, other browsers have had many instances of bad or incomplete implementations - the difference is those browser developers a.) worked with the standards groups to iron-out differences, and b.) released regular updates to fix the problems web developers encountered. Not so with MS.

    2. You may not remember Sun Micro's law suit with MS over Java. MS took the Java platform and modified it into a Windows-only implementation, so that all Java development on Windows would only work with Windows and IE. In a decision that stunned the web community, the court apparently failed to understand public licensing and allowed MS to get away with it.

    3. Even HTML was modified. Pick up any HTML reference and you will see a section of IE-only commands. For a while, other browser developers did the same, but due to the unfavorable response from web programmers, everyone but IE stopped implementing proprietary command structures.

    There is far too much to go into here, but that should at least give you a brief understanding of the annoyance MS has caused programmers for years. Opera's contention that some programmers/companies are not willing to do multiple versions of every site and therefore only develop IE versions is probably correct.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Pet Wombat, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: It's not the bundling that's the issue

    Apparently you are not a web programmer.

    1. Back in the early to mid 90's when all other browsers were adding support for CSS, MS stopped all real development on IE, letting it languish as an HTML-only platform until the release of IE 5 in 2000 - an eternity in web-years (some will argue IE 3-4 had CSS but the implementation was so buggy and incomplete, I defy anyone to show me a CSS page that worked with it). Consequently, every web page created using CSS also had to have an IE HTML-only version - thus doubling (or more) the level of effort needed to launch a web site.

    With the release of IE 5 & 6, MS implemented an incorrect box model, and an non-standard DOM, again requiring programmers to write multiple versions of everything.

    Lest anyone get there knickers in a twist, yes, other browsers have had many instances of bad or incomplete implementations - the difference is those browser developers a.) worked with the standards groups to iron-out differences, and b.) released regular updates to fix the problems web developers encountered. Not so with MS.

    2. You may not remember Sun Micro's law suit with MS over Java. MS took the Java platform and modified it into a Windows-only implementation, so that all Java development on Windows would only work with Windows and IE. In a decision that stunned the web community, the court apparently failed to understand public licensing and allowed MS to get away with it.

    3. Even HTML was modified. Pick up any HTML reference and you will see a section of IE-only commands. For a while, other browser developers did the same, but due to the unfavorable response from web programmers, everyone but IE stopped implementing proprietary command structures.

    There is far too much to go into here, but that should at least give you a brief understanding of the annoyance MS has caused programmers for years. Opera's contention that some programmers/companies are not willing to do multiple versions of every site and therefore only develop IE versions is probably correct.

     

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  18.  
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    Nilotpal, Dec 15th, 2007 @ 3:00am

    It IS anti-trust, and it does prevent a free marke

    In a free market, any standards compliant browser should do a fine job. Try to surf the web in a Konqueror or Safari or Opera. You will come across major sites that will not open. Why? Because they, once coded for IE, and then repaired for Firefox, broke all standards. Where does that leave Opera? Condemned as a "bad, non-compliant browser" for many people. For IE s faulty rendering. You may say that the developers are to be blamed. I say that the developers have no choice, they have to code for 80% of the market , don't they? And a standard, modern code does not render well in IE. Then after coding for the 80%, they do not want to lose the 15% of Firefox, and further act on the faulty code, making it broken for all non-optimised standard browsers. These browsers pay for their good quality, and if this is not anti-free market, I do not know what is.
    And Tim, you have brought the issue of Firefox's share. How did it reach the share? Open source community and active advertisement and backing by Google. The IE vs Firefox wars were actually a proxy for Microsoft vs Google. And even after that, with an effort of quite a few years, and a better browser, Firefox has reached only about 15% worldwide. So, that is your excuse for competition? That any browser has to have a 700 pound giant as a friend even to have a moderate success, after spending billions of dollars and a few years, in addition to a far superior product?

     

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