Two days ago, Opera Software filed an antitrust complaint with the EU against Microsoft (please note that this is not a lawsuit). You have probably read about it by now, because it has been all over the Web (and then some).
Reading some of the discussions on this subject, I have noticed a lot of questions being asked, and many assumptions about Opera's position and motives for doing this. I know that we are going to be giving out more details as time goes by, but I thought that I would post some thoughts on the issue, from the perspective of someone inside the Opera organization.
One thing that has surprised me is the seemingly one-sided focus on one of the two proposed remedies, namely the unbundling of MSIE. People seem to forget about the second proposed remedy – forcing Microsoft to adhere to Web standards, which is even more important in my opinion. The first is just a way to prevent Microsoft from having the power to continue its practices. Both are about giving people an actual choice.
Anyway, here is my small "FAQ" based on some questions and issues I've seen raised around the Web. …
Q: Why Now?
A: Because the EU is currently investigating Microsoft. This is a window of opportunity to take Microsoft to task for their actions. If we do not seize this opportunity, it might be gone forever, and the fight for an open Web might be lost.
Q: How does forcing Microsoft to adhere to standards promote choice in browsers?
A: While it is easy, at least for tech-savvy people, to install a different browser, many sites still require you to use MSIE due to their use of proprietary MS technologies supported only by IE, or hacks designed to fix IE's broken standards support, which can themselves break in other browsers. For there to be actual choice, Web users must be able to choose another browser and use it on any site they wish.
Q: How are people going to be able to download a browser without a browser pre-installed?
A: The complaint doesn't mean that Windows must be stripped of all browsers. What matters is that there is actual choice.
Currently, Microsoft is bundling their browser with the dominant desktop operating system. This would not have been a problem in itself if Microsoft did not actively undermine open standards. Basically, Microsoft's position in the browser market allows it to lock people to their proprietary technologies.
With this two-pronged approach, Microsoft would be forced to adhere to standards, and at the same time they would not be as well equipped to repeat their actions in the future because their browser would no longer be as dominant.
Microsoft has also been known to forcefully prevent OEMs from bundling other browsers. Most people don't buy Windows directly. Rather, it is pre-installed on computers when people buy them. This means that the OEM would likely take care of installing the browser for the end-user.
Q: But Opera is bundled on various devices. Doesn't that make Opera Software a hypocrite?
A: Bundling software in itself is not the problem. The problem with Internet Explorer is that Microsoft has used its strong position in the market to stifle competition.
Q: But Apple bundles Safari/Ubuntu bundles Firefox, etc.?
A: See above. Bundling in itself is not a problem, but it becomes a problem when a dominant player in the market uses bundling in combination with other tactics to prevent others from competing in the market.
Please note that Safari and Firefox are very good at standards compliance. If they didn't have to deal with MSIE compatibility, they (and Opera) could have spent even more time on improving their standards support.
Q: Opera should do more advertising instead of just complaining. Look at Firefox.
A: Billions of dollars and many years have been spent on trying to dethronine MSIE, and it still commands more than 80% of the market. Microsoft also continues to undermine standards to prevent competition (see the EcmaScript 4 debate). Firefox has done admirably well with help from companies like Google and IBM, but 80-90% market share is still far too much for a company with a history of abusing its market position.
Q: Opera is only doing this out of desperation.
A: Opera Software is doing very well financially, with a sizable pile of cash in the bank, a profitable operation, and a revenue growth of more than 50% in the third quarter of 2007 compared to 2006 (desktop revenues increased by more than 100%). On the mobile and devices side, some of Opera Software's current customers include well-known companies like Nintendo, Sony, Nokia, Samsung and Motorola, and our free mobile browser is quickly gaining market share.
Unfortunately, a lot of resources is being spent on trying to fix problems that are a result of Microsoft's actions. Opera Software is not the only company with this problem. Other browser vendors as well as Web developers are spending a lot of money on these issues.
Q: But No browser is 100% standards compliant, right?
A: That is true. There are always bugs that need to be fixed, and not all standards can be fully implemented right away. But what if browser vendors did not have to spend so much time figuring out how other browsers work and work around problems that way, and could instead focus on only implementing the standards correctly? There is also a difference between having bugs in an implementation or not implementing it completely right away, and actively working to break the implementation to prevent others from competing in the market.
Q: Opera doesn't really care about open standards. This is just a cheap way to gain publicity!
A: While this has certainly given Opera Software quite a bit of publicity, one must understand that open standards are absolutely central to Opera Software. Opera has spent a lot of money on promoting open standards through the years, because open standards is what allows relatively smaller players like us to compete in the market.
One could say that the fight for open standards is a key component to Opera Software's business model.