IBM, Sun and Adobe join Microsoft antitrust case

Written by Ben Hardwidge

April 17, 2009 | 15:48

Tags: #antitrust #case #commission #ec #european #explorer #internet #statement #windows

Companies: #adobe #google #ibm #microsoft #mozilla #opera #sun

Firefox 3 may have overtaken Internet Explorer 7 when it comes to browser statistics in Europe, but Microsoft’s browser is still a source of controversy here. After the European Commission issued Microsoft with a state of objections about the inclusion of Internet Explorer with Windows in January, a group of technology companies, which includes Adobe, Opera, IBM and Sun, has now been recognised as an interested third party in support of the EC’s findings.

Called the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), the group describes itself as a non-profit association that “believes strongly in the benefits of a competitive and innovative ICT sector, and seeks to support such an environment by actively participating in the promotion of any initiative aimed at favouring interoperability, competition on the merits, innovation, and consumers' interests in the area of information and communication technology.”

The group has an impressive list of members, which includes Sun Microsystems, IBM, Adobe and Nokia, as well as Corel, Red Hat, RealNetworks and Opera. It was the latter company that first brought the complaint about Internet Explorer to the European Commission, and a number of other groups have since added their support for the case, including the Mozilla Foundation, Google and the Free Software Foundation Europe.

Justifying its interest as a third party, ECIS stated that “despite consistently lower user satisfaction ratings for IE, the Microsoft browser maintains its dominant position as the gateway to the World Wide Web because of illegal bundling with the Windows operating system.”

The organisation also points out that “other browsers that are rated superior to IE cannot compete on their merits. Similar tying practices have already been condemned by both the Commission and European Court of First Instance with respect to Windows Media Player.” Thomas Vinje, a spokesman for ECIS, said that “smaller, more innovative browser developers need a level playing field. That is why there is such broad support for the Commission’s preliminary findings of abuse.”

The European Commission’s original statement of objections was given to Microsoft on 15 January, when the EC said it had reached the 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.”

The EC also added that its findings led it to believe that “the tying of Internet Explorer with Windows, which makes Internet Explorer available on 90 percent of the world's PCs, distorts competition on the merits between competing web browsers insofar as it provides Internet Explorer with an artificial distribution advantage which other web browsers are unable to match.”

The argument about Microsoft’s right to bundle Internet Explorer with Windows has been going on for well over a decade, and Netscape first complained to the US Justice Department about it back in 1996. Is Microsoft entitled to bundle Internet Explorer with Windows as standard, or does the company’s dominance of the OS market stop other browsers from getting a look-in? Will this all change if Internet Explorer is an optional download for Windows 7? Share your thoughts on the European Microsoft anti-trust case in the forums.
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