Opera’s Antitrust Complaint: Microsoft Must Support Standards

    Kevin Yank

    Opera has filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission against Microsoft, alleging that Microsoft has illegally stifled competition in the browser market by tying Internet Explorer to Windows and by failing to support web standards.

    If this all sounds a little familiar to you, it’s because Microsoft fought a similar battle with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001 and lost. Based on that ruling, Microsoft went to work making it possible for all of the bundled applications within Windows to be overridden by 3rd party alternatives. This facility exists today in the form of the Set Default Programs application in Windows XP and Windows Vista.

    Set Default Programs window

    While these measures have satisfied the U.S. Department of Justice, they have not satisfied the European courts. According to Opera’s press release, in September the European Court of First Instance ruled that Microsoft has illegally tied Windows Media Player to Windows, despite the ability to override the program’s file associations using the Set Default Programs facility in Windows, and despite the availability in Europe of Microsoft’s special ‘N’ editions of Windows, which do not include Windows Media Player, as required by a 2005 European Commission decision.

    Off the back of this latest ruling, Opera is seeking to have the Commission apply the very same logic to Internet Explorer, and force Microsoft to distribute Windows either without Internet Explorer (something that Microsoft has consistently maintained is impossible in practice), or with alternative browsers bundled in.

    On top of the bundling issue, Opera’s complaint also seeks to require Microsoft to implement support for web standards in Internet Explorer. This will be a much tougher one to prove. Although Internet Explorer is certainly the least standards-compliant of the major browsers today, each and every release of Internet Explorer has included improved standards support. It seems that Opera is saying that Microsoft’s slowness to develop Internet Explorer is in itself an illegal and anti-competitive act.

    So what do you think? Is Microsoft doing enough to enable users to choose alternative browsers in Windows? And should browser makers be legally required to support web standards, whether they have the programming resources to devote to doing so or not?