Mozilla Coming After Microsoft in EC Dispute

Microsoft's antitrust past has come back to haunt it, yet again. On Friday, Mozilla Foundation Chair Mitchell Baker offered Mozilla's help in pressing a European antitrust effort against the company. The issue concerns how Microsoft distributes its Internet Explorer browser in Europe.

Baker was responding to the European Commission's decision last month to initiate a "Statement of Objections" procedure against Microsoft. The EC plans to assess Microsoft's practice of tying Internet Explorer to Windows as anticompetitive behavior in European markets.

Baker pledged "Mozilla's expertise as a resource to the EC as it considers what an effective remedy would entail."

Antitrust complaints against Microsoft for the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows were settled by a U.S. federal court's final judgment in November of 2002. However, by that time, Netscape's browser had lost its early lead.

Baker recalled that moment in a blog posting. She said that Microsoft's illegal activities as determined by the U.S. court resulted in Microsoft gaining a 90 percent market share with Internet Explorer.

Now, it's payback time, apparently, even though Internet Explorer has been slowly losing market share in Europe. A November survey of browser use in Europe by XiTiMonitor found that Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser lost a point lead over six months' time. The November survey found that Internet Explorer is used by 59.5 percent in Europe, while Mozilla's Firefox browser has a 31.1 percent share.

The Opera browser trailed at 5.1 percent use, according to XiTiMonitor. Opera Software is the company that initiated the complaint before the EC.

Baker was unsparing in her criticism of Microsoft and Internet Explorer. While Microsoft lost in the U.S. federal court, the worst was yet to come.

"Once this happened, Microsoft stopped browser development; even disbanding its browser team," she wrote. "The product stagnated and then became a prime vector for bad actors to inject spyware onto consumers' computers."

She described Mozilla Corp.'s subsequent success with Firefox as an "anomaly" -- not an indication that a healthy browser market currently exists.

Microsoft, for its part, has been claiming that its newest browser, Internet Explorer 8, which is currently at Release Candidate 1 stage, complies with "standards" promulgated by the W3C, specifically CSS. 2.1. Internet Explorer 8 will have a "compatibility view" button to display pages more in accord with the W3C's recommendations than past Microsoft browsers, the company contends.

Opera Software took credit for pushing Microsoft to follow W3C recommendations in a blog. That same blog had earlier questioned whether Microsoft was sabotaging the CSS recommendation.

Microsoft will have less than two months to contest the EC's complaint. The company described possible scenarios in its last 10-Q filing, suggesting that it might be compelled by the EC to offer competing browsers with Windows.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.