The day after Microsoft announced it will sell Windows 7 without Internet Explorer in the European Union (EU), many interested parties are tossing in their reactions, and it’s a mixed bag of opinions.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) made the announcement Thursday in a blog post on the company’s On the Issues blog. The unexpected revelation immediately set off a storm of responses from Microsoft’s critics.
Meanwhile, several US-based analysts found the European Commission (EC) to be too prescriptive and tended to side with Microsoft’s point of view — reflected in its decision to ship an altogether browserless version of Windows in the EU. Microsoft would leave the choice of browsers to ship on new PCs up to PC OEMs.
One open question, however, would be how to offer the same option to purchasers of packaged copies of Windows sold at retail
Of course, none of this — neither the sanctions or fines — has been determined yet. The EC has not said when the case against Microsoft will be decided, although it has said it aims to make a decision as soon as practical.
To date, the EC competition directorate has sent Microsoft a “Statement of Objects,” that spells out the EC’s preliminary decision from January that it believes Microsoft is guilty of illegally bundling IE with Windows since 1996, thus blocking other browsers from competing.
It also includes a range of suggested remedies, including forcing PC makers to provide a so-called “ballot screen” when a new PC is first set up, enabling users to choose among a selection of browsers. The browsers themselves would be either resident on the PC or links to their download sites would be provided.
Competitors and critics complain that such a package of sanctions and fines doesn’t go far enough.
“I think it’s too little too late,” Håkon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera, the Norwegian browser maker, told InternetNews.com. Opera kicked off the latest antitrust case with a complaint about Microsoft’s bundling of IE with Windows in December 2007. “If they’d [Microsoft had] done this in 1997, that would have been okay, but I don’t think this is going to restore competition in the marketplace now,” he added.
Lie’s statements echo those (available here in PDF format) of the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), which has received status as an interested third party in the case. Among ECIS’s membership are Microsoft competitors and critics IBM and Sun Microsystems.
Further, both Opera and ECIS argue that the EC’s ultimate ruling should be applied worldwide.
“Reports indicate that Microsoft does not intend to offer this remedy on a worldwide basis, continuing to deprive consumers in other regions of a choice of browsers and further deepening anti-competitive network effects that will impact European users,” ECIS’ statement continued.
“We would like to see a sanction that has a global focus,” Lie said.
Several U.S.-based analysts though see the EC’s proposed remedies as perhaps worse than the original problem.
Matt Rosoff, research vice president for consumer and corporate affairs at Directions on Microsoft, takes a somewhat different view.
“It seems like Microsoft is, number one, trying to avoid further fines and, number two, trying to avoid a major support nightmare if the ‘must carry’ provision is upheld,” Rosoff told InternetNews.com..
One question that remains unanswered though is how will the browsers be chosen? Will the ballot screen only offer five browsers — say IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera? Or should they include every browser available in the EU?
“Let the OEMs hash out the agreements [for which browsers to include] and take it out of the hands of anybody who would have a dog in the hunt,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com. For instance, browser makers (Microsoft excluded) could bid for positions on PC vendors’ ballot screens.
Otherwise, Microsoft is put in an untenable position.
“It puts Microsoft into a position of saying essentially, ‘how high do you want me to jump?’ and [the EC] says, ‘we’ll tell you if it’s high enough’,” King added.