The latest European Commission ruling could force Microsoft to offer alternative web browsers within Windows so the computer giant avoids breaching EU competition rules. According to the Commission, Microsoft are exploiting their dominant position to constrain the web browser market.
If the preliminary conclusions are confirmed, Microsoft will be obliged to allow Windows users to choose a competing web browser instead of, or in addition to, Internet Explorer. A possible solution would be a “browser choice” screen during Windows installation or allowing computer manufacturers such as Dell to provide a pre-installed set of alternatives.
The Commission will want to avoid the mistakes it made with the Windows Media Player ruling. In that case, Microsoft were forced to manufacture Windows XP N, a version of the operating system that did not include WMP. There was no price discount and, unsurprisingly, the demand for the product was poor.
However, the alternative browser ruling may not be without its own problems:
- How can the European Commission ensure that the list of browsers is fair? Offering IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Chrome would be a logical choice, but there are many other less popular alternatives.
- Few novice users understand what a web browser is. How can they make an informed decision and will they be able to reconsider their choice if necessary?
- Will other operating systems, such as Apple OSX or Ubuntu Linux, be forced to offer similar browser choices?
Microsoft has until the middle of March 2009 to return their official response to the European Commission and further hearings are likely before a final verdict is announced.
What are your thoughts? Can Microsoft justify an IE-only version of Windows? Will the ruling help or hinder the distribution of alternative browsers?
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.