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June 12, 2009


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Chris Carlin

That's an oversimplification of the situation. Right or wrong, antitrust concerns aren't only about hurdles today, but about the competition practices and the direction of the market in the future. It's rightly recognized that a deal that's too good to be true today can easily lead to a bad deal later on when competition has fallen by the wayside.

In the case of IE, Microsoft provides this product for free, bundled with its OS, which makes it harder for competitors to compete. After all, you can't underprice free. The concern, then, isn't that MS is offering a free browser, but that the method of its offer will harm competition, and consumers will be worse off in the future when it's gone.

I'm not saying that approach to the situation is one I particularly agree with, but it is fair reasoning that you don't seem to be recognizing.

Stephen Skarlatos

You totally miss the point that competition is working, it is that simple. The IE market share has gone from 80% to 66%. I can see the EU monitoring the situation but placing sanctions is silly. I know they have not decided on sanctions yet but I am commenting on the possibility.

And on your free argument, it has always been free so it is not like MS changed policy to gain market share and kill competitors. Yes they had an advantage but that is being remedied by better products from competitors and previous anti-trust rulings.

Chris Carlin

No, it's not that simple because we're not talking about these instant results, but about law. Unless you're ready to argue that Microsoft should be above the law, that stuff kind of matters.

Antitrust regulation is generally written to place emphasis on current strategies, not current trends. Microsoft is bundling these products, offering the pieces for free, a price that competition cannot undercut. That's the picture that antitrust law is focused on, and that perspective WHETHER YOU AND I AGREE WITH IT OR NOT is pretty solid. It's incomplete, but it's solid for what it is.

This isn't a gang of bored prosecutors looking to harass Microsoft; they're officials looking to make sure Microsoft is following the law. Their similar past decisions have been confirmed by appellate courts, so it's reasonable to suspect that they're operating correctly here as well.

So you may argue that the EU antitrust laws are just plain silly, and I'd tend to agree, but the case itself is probably sound: MS is breaking the law by using these strategies, REGARDLESS OF COMPETITION AT THE MOMENT, and it should be forced to comply.

Chris Carlin

And by the way, there's another side to competition than just counting the alternatives to IE.

IE, though it's quirks and broken implementations of web standards, leads to websites that only work properly with IE... the "real" version of which is only available on Windows. This promotes vendor lock-in to Windows, particularly among large businesses who use such websites on their intranet for timesheet tracking and such.

That's quite a large market, and helps explain why after decades of development, IE remains notoriously broken.

So it's not only about the small barrier to entry that IE's bundling causes to other browsers, but about the huge barrier to entry that the lack of availability causes to other operating systems.

That's the kind of thing these laws are designed to consider: had MS not bundled IE for free in the first place, perhaps the intranet websites wouldn't have been built to rely on it, and the vendor lock-in would be less today.

Stephen Skarlatos

Actually, from what I have read, the EU laws are very similar to US laws, although the regulators have more leeway in defining what is in the public interest. BTW, the US Justice Department declined to join the fray on this matter.

You are overcomplicating the whole case. The basic premise of the case is that Opera did not have access the Windows browser market. Opera wants MS to load their browser in the base Windows so that they have an equal opportunity to the market. Sounds reasonable on the surface but the problem is that MS would have to load everyone's browser. Then you also have the issue of precedence, what about other types of software which comes with Windows, does that mean MS would need to load every piece of software they compete with. Talk about bloatware...It is just not reasonable.

You technological assesment is also squewed, your view that IE is broken, the problem is how you define broken. Yes, it does not meet international standards, but that does not mean it is broken. I could say it is the de-facto standard and there are plenty of examples of de-facto standards controlled by one company being adopted by companies around the world (many network protocols used by Cisco, Intel's x86 instruction set, etc).

The marketplace shows that your argument about entry barrier does not exist. I could also make the argument that if MS had not bundled the browser to make the Internet easily accessible, it would not have taken off the way it did.

Chris Carlin

You seem to be reading too much into the particular emphasis of a particular administration. When Bush came to power a decision was made to approach Microsoft with softer gloves. That doesn't mean Microsoft wasn't guilty--they absolutely were--it just means softer responses were chosen to deal with the situation.

Keep in mind that Microsoft WAS found guilty of these anti-trust violations in the US. Assuming you're right about the European system being similar to ours, it only lends credence to the new allegations since MS was found guilty here for similar charges.

So the company has been found guilty in the past for similar things... and the appeals court agreed that the charges were correct... and the US laws which are supposedly similar found them guilty... that alone is a pretty strong suggestion that these charges are correct as well.

And does claiming to render HTML correctly while not rendering HTML correctly constitute brokenness? I'd say so. Saying that this brokenness became the de-facto standard only makes it worse for MS, since it supports the argument that the company leveraged the market to artificially prop up its market share... which is exactly what is being alleged.

Finally, you're raising quite a strawman by proposing an unworkable solution so as to claim there is no problem. Regardless of how the situation might be addressed (and clearly the parties are having trouble figuring out ANY good way of addressing it), MS is guilty of violations of anti-trust regulation. That it's hard to clean up the mess doesn't mean no crime was committed.

Chris Carlin

Oh, and the argument that had MS not integrated IE for free the web wouldn't have taken off is flat out ridiculous. History is absolutely clear on that one: MS tied itself to a rocket ship already in flight, slowing it down if anything.

Imagine where we'd be today without thousands or millions of man-hours wasted in efforts to code around Microsoft's broken web browsers and attempts to hijack standards.

The performance boosts alone in web page parsing and display would be very real, and we could be looking at web applications that we can't even conceive of had the industry not been intentionally fractured by the company trying to maintain its hold on the desktop.

Stephen Skarlatos

I am not quite sure how to respond, but your point of views are:

1. If you were found guilty once, the odds are you are probably guilty now. That's justice.
2. If you don't render HTML as the standards state (which until recently because of the lack of test suites could be interpretated differently) your browser must be broken.
3. Technology innovation would have been so much further without MS. Yeah right...

Enough said.

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