Posts Tagged with “EC”

Microsoft – EC Formal Proposal

October 7th, 2009

Today the European Commission announced a formal settlement proposal in the Microsoft tying investigation. The ultimate effectiveness of this remedy depends in part on the implementation specifics and can only be determined over time. Once the EC and Microsoft have agreed to a final settlement, Mozilla hopes to work closely with Microsoft and the EC to implement the settlement in a way that creates the best user experience possible in the ballot setting.

Mozilla will continue our work to help internet users across Europe understand the choices available to them and why it is important to make an informed decision about the software one uses to access the web.

Proposed Microsoft – EC Settlement

August 17th, 2009

A few weeks ago Microsoft and the EC announced they are discussing a settlement proposal. Asa Dotzler did an evaluation of the proposal in view of the principles we have previously, noting both items that appear promising and those that appear weak. In all things the implementation details — all the way to the most mind-numbing level of specificity — will have an immense impact on the proposal’s effectiveness, so we’ll have to wait and see what those details turn out to be. Here I’ll outline a couple of aspects where the proposal itself could use improvement.

The overall point that may get lost is that — even if everything in the currently proposed settlement is implemented in the most positive way — IE will still have a unique and uniquely privileged position on Windows installations.

  • It is always there, often with prominent placement in the user interface. Choosing another browser as a default doesn’t change this.  Contrast this with all other browsers who aren’t available without separate installation.
  • Choosing another browser as a “default” does NOT mean that the other browser takes the place of IE. For example, the IE logo (“shortcut”) still remains unchanged on the desktop. The shortcut / logo of the browser the user has selected does not replace this, it is added elsewhere. As a result, the familiar location remains IE, not the user’s choice.
  • IE appears to retain other privileged positions in the user interface, depending on the exact windows operating system configuration one uses. The most important of these is probably in the Taskbar of Windows 7, which contains IE prominently. Microsoft has described the Taskbar as the “beachfront property of the Windows OS” — it’s next to the Start menu and you see it even when your desktop is covered with all your program windows.

Nothing we’ve seen suggests these items will change when a person chooses to make a different browser his or her default. These shortcuts back to IE remain unless the user makes another browser his or her default and then figures out how to “turn off” IE.

A second way in which IE remains uniquely privileged is the difference between having a piece of software on one’s machine and needing to download, install and make something your default. This may seem irrelevant to those of us who live and breath Internet software, but it’s a significant barrier for a lot of people. IE doesn’t face this issue since it’s on Windows machines when people receive them. The ballot could do a better job of reducing this difference. Right now the ballot is about downloading software. It could be designed to help people get further in the process of downloading, installing, opening and making the new software the default. As proposed, we expect to see many people who want other browsers get lost in the process before they actually succeed in making an alternative browser their main browsing tool.

A third way in which IE retains a uniquely privileged position is the Windows update system. It makes sense to include IE updates in this system, even if a different browser is the default — it’s important not to have “dead” pieces of old software on one’s machine for security reasons. So we do not take the position that the Windows Update system should exclude IE. However, a few safeguards for protecting the prior choice of another browser should be in place. Most important, if IE presents itself to the user as part of an automatically triggered update process, it should close immediately after the update process completes. It should not use this Windows update process as an opportunity to ask to become the default browser.

Another way IE remains privileged is that it looks like potentially all Microsoft products other than Office 2007 may still include hard-coded links to IE. This appears to be true even for the upcoming release of Office. This is the kind of “remedy” that so often seem ludicrous in hindsight. It is also at odds with a person who has already chosen to use another browser.

Comments more specifically tied to the exact language of the documents can be found at Harvey Anderson’s blog.

The importance of the myriad of details makes it very difficult to predict how effective the proposed remedies will be, or the extent of any  side-effects. In any case, addressing the issues raised above would improve the proposed remedy significantly.

Browser Ballot for Windows in Europe

July 24th, 2009

Microsoft and the European Commission have announced they are discussing a proposal for Microsoft to include a browser ballet in European versions of the Windows operating system. The ballot approach has many positive possibilities. However, the precise implementation will determine if the ballot approach is likely to be a useful remedy. For example:

  • Does the ballot apply to the copies of Windows that go through the “OEM channel” (approximately 95%) and are installed by the OEMS on computers when people buy them?
  • Will Microsoft’s update service present this ballot choice to people who already have PCs ?
  • Microsoft’s statement says their proposal will allow people to  “easily install competing browsers from the Web.” It’s not clear yet if the user can set another browser as the default browser — that is, the browser that opens up when one selects a URL. If the ballot screen doesn’t allow one to make something other than IE the default then the so-called “remedy” looks pretty flimsy.
  • Can Microsoft impose terms and requirements on products or providers listed in the ballot?

The answers to these types of questions will have a huge impact on the number of consumers who actually see a choice.

It is also critical that Microsoft respect the choice of people once they have chosen other browsers, and that neither Windows nor IE nor the Windows update system are used as tools to undo the choice of another browser. We would like to see a commitment to respecting these choices as well.

EC Principles: Synthesis

June 11th, 2009

UPDATE: In an odd coincidence, this post appeared just about the time Microsoft announced plans about shipping Windows 7 without Internet Explorer. This post is a synthesis of the public discussions within the Mozilla community over the past weeks. It is not intended — and certainly won’t serve — as a response to Microsoft announcements or plans.

Of the various principles I proposed, the ones that get the strongest positive response are those that protect the choices people have already made or are trying to make. These are outlined in principles 1: Respecting Previous Choice and 2: Windows Must Not Provide a Technical Advantage to IE.

Another set of principles generate a positive response, but feels much more low-key. This includes principles 5, Microsoft must educate people about other browsers and principle 6, Educating people about other browsers.

Principle 7, IE must support web standards, was controversial as a judicial / regulatory requirement. Many want IE to do this but are even very uncomfortable with a regulatory agency determining technical standards in a wildly changing setting such as today’s internet.

The more direct, product based Principle 3, Windows must enable people to choose other browsers, generated some very positive feedback and also some concerns. The positive response comes from the idea that one can’t address the problem without addressing the product. The concerns seem based in (a) complexity of user experience concerns; (b) concern over unintended consequences. The same is true of remedies that have direct effects on the OEM distribution channel. There’s a recognition the OEMs are third parties with their own goals, and an understanding of how hard it is to effectively change such relationships.

There are also people who argue that no one should be able to tell Microsoft anything about its products. People in this group may reject antitrust laws in general, or may reject their application to this kind of technology, or may not know of their existence. Probably all three play a part. Of those people who accept that antitrust law exists and might be applicable, there is a group that wonders if Firefox itself is solving the problem as its market share grows. In contrast, for many people Firefox is mitigating some of the effects of the tying of IE with Windows but does not change the distorted competitive setting that the tying creates.

From this I can say the following about potential remedies, assuming the EC confirms its preliminary conclusion that Microsoft’s tying of IE with Windows violates EC law.

The most basic aspect of a remedy should be to stop Microsoft from subverting the choice to use a browser other than IE. I gave some examples of this in my earlier posts. This will be increasingly important as use of alternative browsers spreads from the early adopters who are more comfortable with their computers to those for whom making any choice that isn’t the default is a bit scary. Forcing those people to figure out and then choose an alternative browser over and over because Windows has somehow pulled them back into IE is a structural problem. Fixing this is an easy and obvious way to protect consumers.

A further remedy that has been publicly discussed is requiring Windows to enable people to choose other browsers, whether through a ballot or not allowing IE to be the automatic default. In other words, helping more people know they have a choice. The lack of knowledge of this choice and the effect it can make is of course a key problem with today’s competitive structure, and is closely related to the integration of IE into Windows. Enabling more people to understand the choices available to them can have some very beneficial results. It is also complex and this aspect of a remedy must be very carefully crafted. The chances for creating a difficult user experience or unintended consequences are real, and so there is a level of concern about the details of what a remedy would look like among even those who support the principle. This mirrors both the challenge and the opportunity of working to provide greater user choice. The reality of the challenges reflects the great importance of the goal.

Mozilla and Firefox have demonstrated that the piece of software known as the “browser” is critically important to each individual’s online experience and to the overall health of the Internet. Building a setting in which consumers and citizens understand they have a choice, realize they can demand better by changing browsers, and aren’t penalized for doing so is a fundamental step in building an internet that retains vibrancy, innovation and choice.

“IE must comply with web standards.” (Opera has suggested that Microsoft must support web standards they have promised to support).

April 9th, 2009

This potential principle has received the most criticism from the Mozilla community to date; there appears to be little support for this principle as a basis from legal requirements from the EC.  This is quite different from agreeing that:

  • Microsoft *should* implement critical web standards; and that
  • the web has been, and continues to be, held back by the lack of good standards support in IE.

In fact, the ongoing drag on the web’s functionality caused by IE’s limitations remains an enormous problem.  We agree on the problem.

The concern is that regulating compliance with standards is fraught with negative side effects and it’s hard to see how to avoid them.  To start with, the standards in question would need to be identified.  Opera points out that Microsoft has itself identified some standards but having Microsoft determine the standards doesn’t serve as a long term solution.  Second, this principle would put enormous stress on the standards-setting process.  This process is difficult in any case, with a variety of different players trying to agree on technical direction and specification.  If Microsoft is legally required to implement a specification, then it is hard to see the process ever coming to a conclusion.  Third, there is the question of how one determines compliance with a standard.  Implementations almost always have bugs, some are serious, some are in the nature of the process.  Someone would need to test and evaluate.  Setting that up is complex and may well be a bad precedent.

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