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Opera files complaint against Microsoft in the EU over IE, Windows bundle; CTO makes Web standards case

Updated with Opera CTO, Microsoft comments: Opera Software said Thursday it is filing a complaint against Microsoft in the European Union alleging the software giant is abusing its power and tying Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system. Opera also has a beef about Microsoft's support for Web standards.

Updated with Opera CTO, Microsoft comments: Opera Software said Thursday it is filing a complaint against Microsoft in the European Union alleging the software giant is abusing its power and tying Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system. Opera also has a beef about Microsoft's support for Web standards.

In its complaint, Opera argues that:

"Microsoft is abusing its dominant position by tying its browser, Internet Explorer, to the Windows operating system and by hindering interoperability by not following accepted Web standards. Opera has requested the Commission to take the necessary actions to compel Microsoft to give consumers a real choice and to support open Web standards in Internet Explorer."

This argument is sounding pretty familiar as Microsoft has repeatedly been in hot water over tying IE and Windows together. That's what the scrum with the Department of Justice years ago was about.

However, Opera is likely to find a more receptive audience in the EU, which isn't exactly a fan of Microsoft's. I'm no lawyer, but if the EU had a beef with tying Windows Media Player and Windows together it only stands to reason that it will have a similar ruling about IE.

Opera requests that the EU do the following:

  • Force Microsoft to unbundle IE and Windows or preinstall alternative browsers on the desktop (read Opera);
  • Require that Microsoft follows "fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities."

Opera argues that Microsoft hasn't adhered to its own public statements about supporting Web standards. Opera alleges that Microsoft has tried to "embrace, extend and extinguish" these standards. For good measure, Opera's complaint dings Microsoft on trying to control standards, increasing support cost and exposing users to security risks.

In a statement, Opera's general counsel Jason Hoida says:

"The European Court of First Instance confirmed in September that Microsoft has illegally tied Windows Media Player to Windows. We are simply asking the Commission to apply these same, clear principles to the Internet Explorer tie, a tie that has even more profound effects on consumers and innovation. We are confident that the Commission understands the significance of the Internet Explorer tie and will take the necessary actions to restore competition and consumer choice in the browser market."

Translation: The EU ruling in September left the door open for more lawsuits so Opera is taking its shot.

Update: Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie said in an interview that the EU competition committee, which has said it will review Opera's complaint, may be inclined to agree with the bundling argument. But the real nut of this compliant is about Web standards and whether Microsoft follows them.

Lie, who also made his case in an open letter, noted that Microsoft is in on Web standard discussions and often supports them. Microsoft's practices, however, tell a different story. When asked for specifics, Lie said the big issues are:

  • CSS (Cascading Style Sheets);
  • XHTML;
  • And DOM (document object model).

"Microsoft often participates and even promises to support these standards, but we find it often isn't the case. We find bugs and programmers have to code around (Microsoft)," says Lie.

Since Microsoft holds the dominant market share and doesn't support standards in practice, "we work on standards in vain and can't use those specifications."

"We've seen enough of this going on. (Microsoft) could have easily fixed the issues highlighted by developers," says Lie.

Now these arguments may be tricky to prove. Microsoft will say we support Web standards. Microsoft could even use "our coding isn't so hot" argument as a defense. But Lie thinks he has a case.

To illustrate his points, Lie sent me to the Web Standards Project, a grassroots organization focused on Web Standards. The Web Standards Project has an Acid 2 test, which evaluates how well a browser sticks to Web standards. Simply put, Opera and Firefox 3 pass. Firefox 2 and IE 7 don't. And IE 7 is way off.

If a browser is on target with Web standards and rendering you're supposed to get a smiley face.

Here's Firefox 2:

smiley1.png

Here's IE 7:

smiley2.png

Here's Opera 9:

smiley3.png

Will smiley faces sway an EU competition committee? I don't know. But these arguments over Web standards and backing up words with actions should be interesting.

Update 2: Microsoft has issued a response:

"It's important to note that computer users have complete freedom of choice to use and set as default any browser they wish, including Opera, and PC manufacturers can also preinstall any browser as the default on any Windows machine they sell. Microsoft is committed to ensuring that freedom through our Windows Principles. Internet Explorer has been an integral part of the Windows operating system for over a decade and supports a wide range of web standards. We will of course cooperate with any inquiries into these issues, but we believe the inclusion of the browser into the operating system benefits consumers, and that consumers and PC manufacturers already are free to choose to use any browsers they wish."