Friday, June 12, 2009

EU Objections to Microsoft's Bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows: My Thoughts

In January, the European Commission sent a Statement of Objections to Microsoft expressing their preliminary view that the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows has violated European competition law. Subsequently, Microsoft announced that Windows 7 will ship without Internet Explorer in Europe.

First, let me emphasise a few points. I've certainly had some negative things to say about Microsoft in my time. They're certainly no angels. I'm a huge advocate of free, open technologies and software. I'm a Mozilla Firefox user and advocate it strongly over Internet Explorer. All of that said, I can't fully support this case. It's certainly true that, given the dominant position of Windows, bundling Internet Explorer with Windows has given it an advantage that no other browser could have achieved, thereby allowing it to markedly dominate the browser market. This has undoubtedly caused a great deal of damage to innovation and competition. However, as argued by Jean-Louis Gassée concerning the earlier United States case against Microsoft, given the increasing prominence of the internet, consumers expect to have a browser packaged with the operating system. Apple bundle Safari and many other applications with Mac OS X - one of the strongpoints of the Mac is that everything is so tightly and nicely integrated - yet no such complaint has been made about Apple. There are many other platforms that bundle a web browser also.

Microsoft's domination of the desktop computer world obviously makes the impact of bundling much greater. Even so, I can't help feeling this is at least a bit unfair. It could be argued that the removal of Internet Explorer from Windows actually puts it at a disadvantage when compared to Mac OS X, which still includes Safari. Furthermore, without a bundled browser, a user can't connect to the internet to download a browser, which impedes internet usage. In the end, will Windows be the only platform which doesn't bundle a web browser?

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