The European Commission and Microsoft

February 6th, 2009

Last month the European Commission stated its preliminary conclusion that “Microsoft’s tying of Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system harms competition between web browsers, undermines product innovation and ultimately reduces consumer choice.”

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.

Let’s think back for a moment to the activities in question. In the mid-1990s Microsoft began developing Internet Explorer in response to the success of the product known as Netscape Navigator. In this period Microsoft developed a fine product (particularly the version known as IE 4). Kudos to Microsoft for this. Microsoft also promoted IE through activities that the US Department of Justice and the U.S. Courts determined to be illegal. As result, Internet Explorer ended up with well over 90% market share. Once this happened, Microsoft stopped browser development; even disbanding its browser team. The product stagnated and then became a prime vector for bad actors to inject spyware onto consumers’ computers. There was no meaningful response or innovation from Microsoft. Despite this, there was no effective competition from the marketplace, no commercial entities gaining success with other products. This is not surprising — I don’t think there has been a single example of anyone ever regaining market share from a Microsoft monopoly until Mozilla Firefox.

As it turns out, Microsoft hasn’t succeeded in stamping out all competition. Firefox has made a crack in the Microsoft monopoly. And, given a choice, a significant part of the European Union citizens have opted to use Firefox. This does not mean Microsoft’s activities haven’t done significant damage, or aren’t still benefiting Microsoft in ways that reduce competition, choice and innovation.

Equally important, the success of Mozilla and Firefox does not indicate a healthy marketplace for competitive products. 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. And I certainly hope that neither the EU nor any other government expects to maintain a healthy Internet ecosystem based on non-profits stepping in to correct market deficiencies.

Second, non-profit or not, Mozilla Firefox is an anomaly — the only product so far to even dent the competitive advantage Microsoft created for itself through its tainted activities. A single anomaly does not indicate a healthy, competitive, or innovative system.

Third, the damage caused by Microsoft’s activities is ongoing. Mozilla Firefox has made a crack in the Microsoft browser monopoly. But even so, hundreds of millions of people use old versions of IE, often without knowing what a browser is or that they have any choice in the quality of their experience. This makes it very difficult to bring innovation, choice or improved user experience to vast parts of the Internet.

The extent of the damage is so great that it makes it difficult to figure out an effective and timely remedy. I believe it’s worth some effort to try. It’s easy to look at Firefox market share and assume the problem is gone or the damage is undone. But that’s not the case. The drag on innovation and choice caused by Microsoft’s actions remains. At Mozilla we work to reduce this drag through direct action, and the results are gratifying. If the EC can identify an effective remedy that also serves to improve competition, innovation and choice, I would find it most welcome.

I’ll be paying close attention to the EC’s activities, both personally and on behalf of Mozilla. Mozilla has enormous expertise in this area. It’s an extremely complex area, involving browsers, user experience, the OEM and other distribution channels, and the foundations for ongoing innovation. An effective remedy would be a watershed event; a poorly constructed remedy could cause unfortunate damage.

I’d like to offer Mozilla’s expertise as a resource to the EC as it considers what an effective remedy would entail. I’ll be reaching out to people I know with particular history, expertise and ideas regarding these topics. If you’ve got specific ideas or concerns please feel free to contact me. I’ll post more as the discussion develops.

114 comments for “The European Commission and Microsoft”

  1. 1

    Pingback from » Blog Archive » Google supports EU’s Microsoft case

    […] “The damage Microsoft has done to competition, innovation and the pace of the web development itself is both glaring and ongoing,” she said. […]

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    […] innovation and the pace of the web development itself is both glaring and ongoing," she said. "There are separate questions of whether there is a good remedy, and what that remedy might […]

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  8. 8

    Toby said on February 28th, 2009 at 8:14 pm:

    I HATE making IE7 my browser of choice, but Firefox doesn’t
    use a lot of the Javascript I use– Have a look of my site

    Try firefox, then look at it via IE… Oh, IE8 scrambles my
    pages. really BAD!

    I like the scrollbar affect, a lot, but doesn’t work in firefox,
    How about adding it to firefox. The sooner you can add
    more Javascript code, the sooner I’ll DROP IE.

  9. 9

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  14. 14

    Joe Carmelo said on April 10th, 2009 at 12:59 am:

    Well, I am completely late to this thread by I also think this IS ridiculous and this IS about milking money from Microsoft.

    Yes, people were explaining in details how Microsoft’s case is different from Apple’s since “it has a dominant market position”. Well, then, I guess that’s what you are against now – you just prosecute them since they are dominant.

    However, the rules must be the same, regardless of the market share of the company. The law should not discriminate against success. You say they broke the law while achieving that success? Fine, then prosecute them for that, if you can prove it, but what are you prosecuting them for? For the fact that IE is included with the operating system?

    Now someone above has explained how IE integration with Windows is different (and thus very bad) from, say, Safari in MacOS or Firefox in Linux. But you forget one thing – this is a consumer product. As a consumer, I don’t care about technical details. When I buy a computer, I expect it to be functional and while I agree that a computer does not require a browser to function, there is no way I would buy a computer if no browser is installed. Most people won’t since Internet has become a part of our lives. And nobody is selling computers without a browser. Apple comes with Safari and Linux comes with Firefox.

    So what’s your complaint, really? Why do you want Microsoft to sell a defective product – i.e. an OS without a browser? Or maybe you want them to include their competitors software? Why would they do that? Does anyone else do that? In any other type of business?

    Moreover you don’t seem to understand one thing – however fashionable it is to blame Microsoft for everything, there simply is not that much difference between browsers – they all have the same interface (ok, some buttons have different names, so what), they all have tabs now, and they all have a search built-in. Maybe there are enthusiasts who use a lot of extensions and then Firefox is their only choice, but then these people know how to get what they want without the help of the EC. And I doubt they dominate the market. Myself, I don’t use any extensions and thus for me the only difference between browsers is the stuff I read in magazines regarding security. the actual browsing experience is really the same. Thus I would never pay for another browser – why would I if it does not bring anything better to me?

    OK, Firefox is free (actually paid by Google, who gets money from all that annoying advertising I have to put up with, but ok, the ads won’t go away whatever browser I use). But if I had to buy a computer without a browser in it, how on Earth would I get Firefox? So that means you want to force Microsoft, or rather the OEMs to include the Firefox in their installations. By a EC decree or whatever. You call this competitive?

    So this is the bottom line – you have a product which is not really superior and you want to use the court to push up your market share. The EC is happy to do this since in the process they get a lot of money as fines. I find it ridiculous. And definitely not idealistic or anything. So, while you can do whatever you have to do to survive, just don’t call yourself better or anything. You are not.

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