The European Union's pursuit of Microsoft over new charges that Internet Explorer (IE) stifles browser competition is "silly" and "dumb," a noted anti-trust expert has said.
"I just don't see what it adds to the final judgment in the US case," said William Page, the co-author of The Microsoft Case: Antitrust, High Technology, and Consumer Welfare, and a member of the faculty of the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
"OEMs are already free to delete most of the visible evidence of [Internet Explorer], and to install another browser if they want."
Last month, the EU's anti-trust agency, the Competition Commission, served Microsoft with new allegations that focused on IE, the company's browser. According to the commission, Microsoft's bundling of IE with Windows "distorts competition" in the browser market and gives IE "an artificial distribution advantage" over rivals like Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari and Opera Software's Opera.
Although the commission has not revealed the specific charges, or said what it would want Microsoft to do to correct the situation, it has given some clues about the latter. They could include forcing Microsoft to "give users an objective opportunity to choose which competing web browser(s) instead of, or in addition to, Internet Explorer they wanted to install in Windows," said commission spokesman Jonathan Todd.
"Microsoft could also be ordered to technically allow the user to disable Internet Explorer code should the user choose to install a competing browser."
From where Page sits, it's all ancient history. "This is old hat," he said. "We've been over this a million times."
In the US, anti-trust trust case against Microsoft, government regulators argued that the company smothered rival browsers by tying IE to Windows. Although the government won its case at trial, that was overturned on appeal. In the ensuing settlement between federal and state officials and Microsoft, the latter was not required to sever links between IE and Windows.
"The remedy [from the US case] was for Microsoft to remove icons and menu items related to IE, and so forth, and give OEMs the flexibility to install another browser," said Page, who was a trial attorney in the US Department of Justice's anti-trust division for several years in the 1970s, long before the Microsoft case started.
"There's no [Windows] OEM I know of, though, that has actually installed a second browser," he said, adding that several, Dell among them, have talked about the idea. Dell has, in fact, discussed the possibility of installing Firefox as the default browser on its IdeaStorm community comment site.
Nor is something like that necessary today, Page said. "With the spread of broadband, downloading another browser isn't any big deal anymore," he said.
Executives at Mozilla disagree. In a blog, Mitchell Baker, the former CEO of Mozilla and currently the chairwoman of Mozilla Foundation, said she had "not the smallest iota of doubt" that the EU is on the right track.
"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," Baker said.
Microsoft has until the middle of March to respond to the commission's charges, and can request a hearing to spell out its position.