posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 10th Feb 2009 12:44 UTC
IconRecently it became known that the European Union is charging Microsoft with anticompetitive behaviour concerning its Internet Explorer web browser. The EU is considering forcing OEMs to offer consumers a choice of browser. Opera responded quite positively to these events, and now Mozilla has responded as well: they fully support the EU.

Mozilla Foundation chairperson Mitchell Baker has stated her full support for the EU's conviction that Microsoft's tying of Internet Explorer to Windows is harmful to the competition. They will offer full cooperation and will assist the EU with their expertise on the browser market. She wrote on her blog:

In my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that the statement above is correct. Not the single smallest iota of doubt. I've been involved in building and shipping web browsers continuously since before Microsoft started developing IE, and the damage Microsoft has done to competition, innovation, and the pace of the web development itself is both glaring and ongoing. There are separate questions of whether there is a good remedy, and what that remedy might be. But questions regarding an appropriate remedy do not change the essential fact. Microsoft’s business practices have fundamentally diminished (in fact, came very close to eliminating) competition, choice and innovation in how people access the Internet.

Ars Technica's Ryan Paul expresses sincere problems with Baker's statements in said blog post. First of all, Paul explains, is it really true that Microsoft still has a monopoly in the browser market? In the EU, roughly 30% of citizens prefer Firefox over Internet Explorer, and several WebKit-based alternatives like Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari are gaining ground fast. In fact, the browser market has never been as open and diverse is it is now.

Secondly, Paul argues that without Microsoft's monopoly position with regards to IE, we would be seeing a much less healthy browser market today; facing uneven odds, competitors to IE had to make radical and innovative decisions in order to successfully compete. Or, as Paul puts it: "If Internet Explorer had never gained the dominant marketshare to necessitate a change in the status quo, the only browser choices we would have today might be between an ad-encumbered Opera and a proprietary Netscape."

Thirdly, Baker makes a rather odd claim regarding the current status of the browser market. "The success of Mozilla and Firefox does not indicate a healthy marketplace for competitive products," she states, "Mozilla is a non-profit organization; a worldwide movement of people who strive to build the Internet we want to live in. I am convinced that we could not have been, and will not be, successful except as a public benefit organization living outside the commercial motivations."

Paul points out that many open source enthusiasts would disagree with this statement. "There are quite a few open source software enthusiasts who would argue that, for a broad range of software products, the emergence of a Mozilla-like model is actually desirable and highly advantageous for consumers," Paul argues, "A point will eventually arrive for many kinds of software where there is simply no point in trying to derive value from shrink-wrapping it, and then efforts will converge around collaboratively-developed open source implementations that will displace and eliminate the need for proprietary commercial implementations. Why should that be viewed as unhealthy?"

I find it hard to disagree with Paul's assessment of Mozilla's position, and seeing the recent comment threads about this subject on OSNews, I think most of you will agree as well. On most fronts where Microsoft used to call the industry shots, they lost major ground. This all started with the emergence of Firefox, which broke IE's monopoly - without any government intervention. Firefox is beating IE so badly on its own merits - not because it received help from the government. We now see that Firefox opened the floodgates, allowing other players in other fields (Linux, Apple) to compete with Microsoft on other fronts, leading to a healthier overall market.

In addition, the recent browser market forces all players to innovate, and it has even forced Microsoft to make major improvements in its browser's standards compliance. From whatever angle you look at it, the current browser market is healthier than it has ever been, with lots of choice and competition. The EU is not needed here.

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