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“The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.”     Frederick Bastiat

January 18, 2009

Microsoft Attacked By EU For Same Practices That Apple/Linux Use

by Brad Warbiany

Back in the day, antitrust regulators decided that including a browser with an operating system was an unfair competitive measure. But to this day, they’ve only ever enforced this against Microsoft, and the EU is still pushing:

European antitrust regulators have told Microsoft Corp. that the company’s practice of including its Internet browser with its popular Windows operating system violates European competition law, Microsoft said Friday.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant (MSFT) said that it’s been presented with a statement of objections informing it that related remedies put in place by U.S. courts when Microsoft settled an antitrust case in this country in 2002 are not adequate for Europe, though a “final determination” hasn’t been made on the matter.

I’ve never really used Apple’s computers much, but I’m pretty sure you can’t buy an Apple PC without Safari pre-installed. I’ve installed a number of Linux distributions (Red Hat, Debian, ubuntu, and even a 50MB distro called DamnSmallLinux), and every single one of them has been bundled with a browser. Microsoft has argued that a browser is a critical part of an operating system, and thus — even though it sucks — it makes perfect sense for them to distribute IE with Windows.

In fact, it’s so pervasive, that I’ve never seen an OS that comes without a browser pre-installed. Is the EU going to go after each of OS distributors next? I didn’t think so.

Hat Tip: QandO

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20 Comments

  1. The difference is that Apple or a Linux company ie Ubuntu isn’t abusing monopoly powers when they bundle their browser. Why should anti trust laws apply to the “little” guys?

    That aside, Microsoft shouldn’t be allowed to bundle IE for security reasons. But I guess if you use that logic the slippery slope ends with Windows being illegal.

    Comment by tim — January 18, 2009 @ 10:54 am
  2. You did not get it.

    The fact is that IE is NOT an application that comes with the OS, like other browsers in MAC or Linux, but it is fused into it in a way you cannot take it out. All OS comes with browsers applications in the case of Microsoft IE is NOT a separate application but part of the OS itself.

    Comment by No Name — January 18, 2009 @ 10:56 am
  3. Linux bundles several browsers in the distros you can get, I do;t even know how many different ones there are, more than 1 though thats for sure. If Microsoft wanted to avoid this kinda of ‘harassment’ as I’m sure they like to call it, they should get a deal going with Opera, Firefox, Konqueror, Chrome, maybe even Safari and allow the option at least, to install those either during installation or shortly after. Besides, most are open source and Microsoft could customize, ie:break it and make it just as insecure as IE, to suit their needs in Windows.

    Explorer is part of the OS itself just as Konqueror is part of KDE, it just happens to double as a web browser as well. I am in no way defending Microsoft, I’m a Linux person myself, but come on, fair is fair, cut ‘em some slack. Just because Microsoft has more money than anyone else doesn’t mean you can sue them at a whim because you think they’re being unfair. Besides, how many people even use IE once their system is installed and running? The ONLY reason I use IE4Linux is to access some sites that cater to only IE.

    As I said, I am not defending Microsoft. People have a choice even without another browser being installed.

    Comment by JackAcid — January 18, 2009 @ 11:21 am
  4. Brad, NoName and JackAdd are right on this one; at least from a technical standpoint. You cannot remove IE from the system even if you want to; and in order to get patches and updates you need to use IE.

    However, I say, SO WHAT.

    Why should any government (or pseudo government) be allowed to dictate what a software company can and cannot “bundle”.

    It amazes me how incompetent these anti-trust/anti-monopoly actions hav ebeen against microsoft ever since they started back in the 90s. I have no idea why these regulators and prosecutors have focused on one of the weakest, and least justified cases; that of software bundgling; and have made little to not effort to go for the REAL problem with Microsoft, and that is market manipulation.

    I believe that in general anti-monopoly regulation is futile at best; but there are some important safeguards that government CAN apply in a monopoly or pseudo monopoly situation.

    Microsoft has made a general practice of price fixing, collusion with partners, contract cramming and loading, and SEVERE penalties to anyone who doesn’t play their game.

    If you’re going to go after a company for unfair trading practices; why not go after the ones that really are unfair; and that really do cause consumer harm?

    Comment by Chris Byrne — January 18, 2009 @ 11:51 am
  5. I dont care if Microsoft bundles IE or not. What I care is that my open source friends that write browsers have free cost access to all browser accessed algorithms that Microsoft and their friend companies use to monopolize by excluding open source and freesoftware foundation browsers from being able to compete on an equal footing. The lack of enforcement of anti-monopoly laws is a disgrace.

    Comment by Jeff Barnes — January 18, 2009 @ 12:33 pm
  6. I have an idea, why not have Microsoft NOT bundle the Windows Kernel with their product? Makes about as much sense doesn’t it? Or, not calculator, or word pad, or any games, orhow about the ‘start’ button?

    Yeah, lets have Microsoft sued for having bundled the kernel with their product…

    Comment by JackAcid — January 18, 2009 @ 2:12 pm
  7. There are some differences. Mainly, you don’t pay for the Mac OS or linux. Also, Linux distros typically have multiple browsers installed by default.

    Also, linux and Mac don’t control 95% of the market.

    Comment by Joe — January 18, 2009 @ 2:20 pm
  8. Joe? Where you been bud? You DO pay for the Mac OS, it is based on BSD but you still PAY for it if you want it, and you pay dearly, granted not as much sticker price wise as Windows, but you DO. You supposedly can only run it on Apple approved hardware and if you do BUY it, it will cost you upwards of $100 or more depending on what you want. If you don’t put it on Apple approved hardware, they will not support it and can, in their license, even take you to court over it.

    Might want to check into that a bit more Joe. Not bashing you or anything but, hey…

    Comment by JackAcid — January 18, 2009 @ 2:51 pm
  9. The real issue here is that Microsoft does not follow international web standards. They do this in order to limit uptake of alternative browsers. . You can check with top web developers on this, many complain. Firefox and Opera are safer and better because they are open source and follow standards. Microsoft wants no competition in the browser market or in Office software. One of many dirty tricks.

    Comment by lancest — January 18, 2009 @ 3:48 pm
  10. Agreed Jack. And Joe, from my experience, most of the popular Linux distros only ship with one browser. Fedora, SuSE and Ubuntu ship with Firefox (The kde versions ship with konqueror).

    The anti-trust has its largest impact when (as mentioned above) core windows components can’t function without the browser (such as windows updates).

    Luckilly for Firefox and Safari, they’re both fairly open browsers. There’s no over-licensed API like ActiveX keeping the browser’s features from being shared. Even GreaseMonkey — The firefox scripting API is getting support in new versions of Google’s “Chrome” browser, and the Apple WebKit is making its way back into Konqueror and Chrome.

    Most everyone is ok with IE shipping with windows. It just shuts out other browser manufacturers from ever having a chance when core operating system components are guaranteed to be broken without IE.

    If microsoft put more time developing IE for other platforms, it would begin to realize how much of a wasted effort it is to tie the OS and browser together. The popularity of IE would actually get people paying for it on other platforms had their head not be so far shoved up their own a$$es.

    -Tres

    Comment by FatButtLarry — January 18, 2009 @ 3:59 pm
  11. Actually, the issue whether a company has a right to pre-install a browser, but whether a company that controls over 90% of the OS market has a right to leveragethat monopolistic position to establish a browser monopoly as well. Actually, the alternative browsers are doing pretty good – Google and others have obtained together more than a 50% share of the browser market, so there really is no case to be made against Microsoft at this point. Five years ago, yes. But not now. Hopefully this newly arisen situation will not give rise to non-standard browser capabilities, but the needs of the internet itself sort of makes that unlikely.

    Comment by kent beuchert — January 18, 2009 @ 5:42 pm
  12. Or, not calculator, or word pad, or any games, orhow about the ’start’ button?

    Those weren’t introduced into the OS to drive out a 3rd party product that already ran on Windows, nor have I ever heard about MS pressuring OEMs to not ship with competitors to games, calculator, or WordPad.

    It’s an apples and oranges comparison.

    Comment by Justin Buist — January 18, 2009 @ 5:47 pm
  13. The problem is not really that IE is part of the Windows OS. The problem is the number of websites that require IE.

    The hospital I go to uses a lab company that only allows lab results to be displayed in Internet Explorer. If you use Firefox, you can’t get your lab results online. That isn’t Microsoft’s fault, and the frustration is with the lab company (Labsoft) who refuses to cater to anything but Internet Explorer.

    So, no, Microsoft shouldn’t be chastised for including a web browser in its OS — it is indeed part and parcel of Windows (just as Konqueror is part and parcel of KDE).

    No, the problem is when smaller companies and websites refuse to accomodate anything but IE.

    Comment by anonymoose — January 18, 2009 @ 5:50 pm
  14. Updates do not have to be dedicated to the browser. Microsoft Really has no reason to care if you uninstall IE and use another browser as they already got their money.

    Microsofts concern is they are going to take a really serious profit hit when Linux the free downloadable operating system gets rid of user friendliness problems allowing large numbers of users to migrate especially when Linux starts it’s television ad campaign.

    Europe is going more and more Linux so more and more they don’t care what microsoft OS does just more and more how its collusions to hinder Linux effects them.

    All the rest is just rhetoric to evade the issue.

    Comment by Jeff Barnes — January 18, 2009 @ 6:19 pm
  15. Microsoft came out with active server pages .asp which because of so many websites using this it “strategicly” made open source browsers ineffective on all those websites until they could write code to be compatable again.

    Another example of the monopolistic “strategic” coincidences is when Microsoft became incompatable with Linux file sharing.

    Another example is their “friends” media format patents.

    The strategy spirit seems to be make Linux a “headache to use” and browser server access is a strategic point to do that therefore should be forced standardized by anti-trust law. Microsoft has 95 percent of the market to do it with. I’m old. I remember when antitrust laws actually were enforced.

    The EU should quit with this partially relavent indirect browser bundle suit. It is time Microsoft should answer for this head on.

    Comment by Jeff Barnes — January 18, 2009 @ 7:52 pm
  16. Perhaps I’m completely off here, but it seemed at the time as if the antitrust suit was a tool that companies like Netscape decided to use to compete. Microsoft delivered the operating system a vast majority of people used then (maybe a bit less so now). So Microsoft was able to better integrate its browser into that ubiquitous operating system (indeed the browser and the OS are flavors of the same programs).

    Since Netscape and others were not able to compete on that level, they lobbied Washington to change the rules for them. I don’t envy them tying to compete against a company with as many resources as Microsoft had and has, but I can’t support using the federal government to force your competition to be less competitive.

    For one thing, that kind of abuse of freedom and free markets can be used by anyone against anyone. The next company that might be considered “too successful” could be the one you created with that million-dollar-idea many of us hope we’ll get one day.

    For another, it’s more likely to produce benefits for companies that find less demand for their products services, against companies that find more demand. This leaves us with a downward trend product and service utility, based on free choices. “Successful” products and services become those that have the most pull in Washington, not the ones that answer market needs the best.

    For another, I have a hard time seeing where it’s any of the federal government’s concern. While Microsoft was indeed trading with people in every state, their commerce was mostly between free citizens. This was not “…Commerce…among the several States…”.

    I’m sure the commerce clause has been stretched by big government advocates to mean just about anything they want, but the more I read about the origins of the United States, the more I doubt that control over how a software company bundles its products was the purpose behind those words.

    Comment by Akston — January 18, 2009 @ 10:00 pm
  17. this is about the problems of consumers. microsoft has pre-installed a browser on 95% of the world’s desktops that horribly breaks international standards.

    on top of that, the terrible javascript engine in the browser makes it nigh-on impossible to write complex ajax pages. even google hasn’t got the resources to make these pages work in ie6. this effectively limits the opportunities tho web would offer.

    what do you think of this? let’s say microsoft makes a serious contender to adobe photoshop and bundles it with the operating system. but updates to microsoft’s products subtly break the file format, so that adobe’s product can no longer open projects created in the microsoft product. because the microsoft product is good enough for most people, nobody buys the adobe product anymore. adobe then goes slowly out of business.

    Comment by howlingmadhowie — January 19, 2009 @ 1:11 am
  18. Around the time of President Teddy Roosevelt 1940′s I think it became accepted that when a company became disproportionately larger than all competition and especially if it behaved like a bully then in the United States it it was determined to be acting in an unfair manner and was therefore subject to antitrust law doing something like breaking it into multiple smaller companies to restrain it from abusing its power and promote free competition instead of coutright ontrol. This law was not used lightly.

    You are right this is more of an EU issue but Microsoft’s behaviour does effect the United States citizens as well. A European browser company may have gotten more attention being European and the US may or may not need that particular browser but we do have a common problem the Microsoft seems to not cease this type of behavour of interfering with competition to the point that competition cannot compete. Again that is a common problem we both have. We just have different specific circumstances.

    Comment by anonymous — January 19, 2009 @ 2:50 am
  19. The main difference between Linux and Microsoft is that Microsoft threatens anyone who dares to compete with them. Microsoft first offered Internet Explorer for free after Netscape refused to sell Netscape to Microsoft. They buy out the competition and then they sell us a product that is not debugged, because, “Why debug when you are the only choice in town?”

    Microsoft does not innovate! They find ways to legally steal the work of others, and punish those who would offer a more stable platform or better product.

    Capitalism is supposed to be the best product wins, but since no one has been truly enforcing the antitrust laws against the big money corporations of late, capitalism has has been replaced by a handful of monopolies.

    Mark Heinemann

    Comment by Mark Heinemann — January 19, 2009 @ 3:23 am
  20. The idea, that even though Konqueror is bundled with KDE, you can remove it from the system. But IE cannot as the core uses IE. Now this gives web developers a guarantee that 95% of the web users have IE, and will make web pages compatible with IE. Now if IE breaks web standards, so will these web developers whose websites no longer work on other browsers.

    Here comes the unfair business practice.

    I guess the same goes with their office suite.

    Comment by Prasad — January 19, 2009 @ 8:10 am

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