Archive for March 18th, 2009

EC Principle 2: Windows Must Not Provide a Technical Advantage to IE

March 18th, 2009

Microsoft has used Windows to make competition in browsers difficult in a variety of ways that aren’t obviously apparent to a consumer. These techniques are generally apparent only to other developers. Some of these will seem small when considered alone. But taken together these add up to a significant burden for other browser makers, and a significant advantage to IE.

Windows has provided technical advantages to IE through techniques such as those listed below. This list is not meant to be conclusive. It is meant to illustrate the range of ways in which Windows can and has made it difficult for other browsers to provide a competitive experience on Windows.

  • Making information available to IE before or differently than that information is available to others.
  • Making it difficult for other browsers to access browsing information stored in Windows, thus making migration and syncing painful for users and difficult for other browser makers to implement well. This includes information such as formats and metadata related to IE favorites, website passwords, and website cookies.
  • IE use of undocumented Windows APIs.
  • Providing APIs to IE available to Windows developers as part of the “Windows” API. As a result applications developed by third party developers can send URLs directly to IE rather than to the browser the user has selected as his or her choice.
  • Requiring the use of IE to use the Windows update service. (Microsoft appears to have phased out this practice, or to have provided alternatives. I include it as an illustration of the ways Microsoft has, and could again, use Windows to damage competition in the browser space.)

The ubiquity of Windows brings this artificial competitive advantage for IE to almost every single person using a personal operating system. Redressing this setting will help refocus competition on the merits of the browser itself.

To go further with this principle we should identify all the ways Windows provides technical advantages to IE. If you’ve got examples please feel free to leave them here (we’ll review comments to previous posts for examples already given) or provide them by whatever means you feel comfortable with.

EC Principle 2: Prelude

March 18th, 2009

As I look at this principle (“Windows can’t provide a technical advantage to IE”), I’m sure that there will be a set of comments asking (a) why can’t Microsoft do whatever it wants with Windows, and (b) if there are limits on Microsoft, what about Apple? So I’ve added this post to address those questions.

The answer is the monopoly status of the Windows operating system. With over 90% market share for a decade or so, the concern is that this dominance allows Windows to damage the structure of competition. This concern is reflected in anti-trust laws. So this would not apply to Apple unless and until Apple has a monopoly or dominant position with the desktop operating system (today its market share is in the single digits).

It may be that many of the people saying Microsoft should be able to do whatever it wants are both familiar with anti-trust law and reject the entire idea. That’s a different discussion than the one I’m focused on. I’ve focused on two topics that bracket the legal decisions:

  1. Has the integration of IE into Windows damaged competition? Mozilla has more experience in this area than almost anyone (Opera being the other long term competitor), so I feel qualified to address this; and
  2. How do we think about remedies? What kinds of remedies make sense, which are likely to cause unintended consequences?

There’s an obvious question in the middle of these: Does the harm caused by the integration of IE into Windows violate EU competition/anti-trust law? That’s the classic “application of law to the facts of a case” at the heart of a legal decision. I know a lot about the factual difficulties of competing but much less about the precise application of European Union law.

The EC has signaled its preliminary conclusion that the integration does violate EU law and that remedies are likely to be imposed. I feel it’s important to try to have our experience and expertise reflected in the EC’s deliberations. Thus my focus on the difficulties of competing with IE in the current setting, and on the principles that might guide our thinking on remedies.

New Theme Credits

March 18th, 2009

My blog theme has featured the Mozilla Ten Year Anniversary for just about a year now; reflecting my original idea of celebrating not just the past but the future. We didn’t actually do as much in the appreciation of the past as I had anticipated. Instead we celebrated Mozilla’s Anniversary by continuing to move forward as fast as we can. That’s very Mozilla-like; we often don’t spend much time celebrating before moving on to the next thing.

I’m moving to a new theme. It’s got a lighter feel than the Mozilla black-and-red and has greater flexibility for making things easy to find. I want to thank Monique Johnson, who took a bunch of the doodles I draw during meetings and turned them into a theme, and Craig Cook for implementing the design. Also John and Melissa and Tiffney for dealing with my inertia.

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