FSFE welcomes the arrival of greater competition in the web browser market. From today, Microsoft has to offer Windows users in Europe the possibility to choose among different browsers. This step puts into practice the company's settlement with the European Commission from December 2009. The Free Software Foundation Europe was an active participant in the Commission's investigation.
"For the first time, Microsoft has been forced to offer all users a choice among different web browsers," says FSFE's President Karsten Gerloff. "This is a stop sign for the company's strategy of extending its near-monopoly in desktop operating systems to other markets."
FSFE is fighting for freedom of choice and Open Standards. Microsoft's own Internet Explorer browsers do not interpret web standards correctly. The company's near-monopoly on the desktop has meant that web designers have often catered to Microsoft users only, leaving users of rival browsers to deal with broken pages.
"Microsoft has gained its dominant position in the browser market by violating its consent decree with the US competition authorities. The problem we are trying to fix here wouldn't exist if Microsoft had complied with the laws," says FSFE's Legal Counsel Carlo Piana. "It is no coincidence that we have recently seen more competition among browsers, after years where there was no innovation and a total lack of investment by Microsoft."
It is now up to the users to take advantage of the choice they are offered. Gerloff reminds the EC that it will constantly need to monitor the success of the 'ballot screen'. "Microsoft is a convicted monopolist and has broken countless promises in the past," he says. "We urge the European Commission to keep a sharp eye on how well this measure plays out in practice."
The 'ballot screen' is currently limited to Europe. "We call on competition authorities around the world to take a cue from the EC's good work in this case. The effect on competition and standards compliance would be much greater if users were offered a choice everywhere", says FSFE's Legal Counsel Carlo Piana.
It remains to be seen how the 'ballot screen' will improve competition in the market for web browsers. FSFE is equally concerned about the lack of interoperability between Microsoft's products and Free Software competitors, and the company's practice of bundling its operating system with consumer hardware.
The initial complaint about Microsoft's abuse of its dominant position in the web browser market was brought by Opera. FSFE has supported the investigation as an interested third party, providing feedback and helping to shape the measures imposed by the European Commission.
The settlement on web browsers is only the latest among several European Commission investigations into Microsoft's anticompetitive behaviour. The most famous among these actions -- where FSFE was a key player -- concerned the workgroup server operating system market. Also known as the Samba case, it ended with a landmark decision in 2007 by the European Court of Justice. Microsoft was forced to disclose interoperability information that it had illegaly withheld from competitors.
On the same day that the ballot screen was announced, Microsoft also promised to disclose interoperability information for a number of its products, such as Windows Server, Microsoft Office, Exchange and SharePoint. Here, an investigation by the European Commission is still ongoing.