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Google To Join EC Complaint Against Microsoft

Google is the latest Web browser maker to join the plaintiff's side in a European Commission (EC) complaint against Microsoft's Internet Explorer distribution practices. In its public policy blog on Tuesday, Google said it wants to join as a third party in the EC's proceeding.

The complaint was originally brought before the EC by Opera Software, which said that Microsoft's practice of bundling Internet Explorer with its Windows operating system was anticompetitive behavior. Oslo, Norway-based Opera makes a competing browser that runs on Windows.

Earlier this month, Mozilla Foundation Chair Mitchell Baker pledged Mozilla's expertise to the EC with the idea of reigning in Microsoft's bundling practice. The Mozilla Foundation promotes the Firefox browser, as well as Netscape Navigator.

A November 2002 U.S. federal court ruling against Microsoft previously found Microsoft's bundling practice to be anticompetitive, but the ruling doesn't apply abroad. It took years to settle that case, but in the meantime, Netscape lost its early browser market lead to Microsoft.

For its part, Google did not mince words in its blog about why it's weighing in against Microsoft.

"Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users. This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft's dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers," the blog states.

The blog noted that in the mobile market, where Microsoft can't tie its browser to the OS, Internet Explorer has far less market share.

Some comments in the blog noted that Apple carries out the same anticompetitive practice as Microsoft by bundling its Apple Safari browser with the Apple Mac OS X operating system. Others wonder how a user can download alternative browsers if a browser doesn't come bundled with the operating system.

In a Tuesday update before financial analysts in New York, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that Internet Explorer has been losing market share to other browsers, although the company's latest browser effort, IE8 -- currently at the Release Candidate 1 stage -- aims at reversing that trend.

During the meeting, Ballmer described Internet Explorer as an operating system feature, echoing Microsoft's losing contention in the 2002 U.S. federal court case that the browser is an inseparable part of the operating system.

"We think that browser share is important," Ballmer said, "[but] browsers are not commodities. Browsers are key features of operating systems and we have a lot of work that we need to do in that dimension."

Microsoft currently has less than two month's time to contest the EC's "Statement of Objections" finding that bundling Internet Explorer with Windows is anticompetitive behavior. The company floated some possible actions it might take in its 10-Q financial statement.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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