Microsoft's new IE8 'kill switch' not enough, says Opera

Microsoft Corp.'s move to let users cripple Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) isn't enough to solve its newest antitrust problems with European Union regulators, according to the head of the company that filed the original complaint.

"That's one possible step," said Jon von Tetzchner, the CEO of Opera Software ASA. "But it doesn't really change much, does it?"

A December 2007 complaint submitted by Opera to the European Commission prompted the antitrust agency to charge Microsoft in January 2009 with stifling competition by bundling its browser with Windows. Specifically, the commission said that Microsoft "shields" IE from completion by distributing the application with its operating system.

Two weeks ago, when Microsoft confirmed that it would allow users of the upcoming Windows 7 to block IE from loading, some, including von Tetzchner, speculated that the option was prompted by the recent antitrust action.

"I would not be surprised if it was linked [to the charges]," he said.

Microsoft has declined to comment on whether the decision was connected to the commission's move.

Although the commission has not spelled out what it might demand of Microsoft if its charges stick, it has hinted that the American company might be forced to disable certain portions of IE and/or offer users the choice of other browsers.

von Tetzchner wants to see Microsoft do the latter. "The important thing would be consumer choice," he said. "The quick answer would be to offer other browsers. How exactly that would be done tactically isn't up to us, but consumers should have an equal choice of browsers."

He declined to comment on Opera's opinion about which browsers should be offered to Windows users in lieu of IE, but said they should be restricted to what he called "real browsers."

Google Inc., which has joined the antitrust action as an "interested third party" by virtue of its Chrome browser, declined to comment about Microsoft's new IE option in Windows 7. But like Opera, Google said it wanted the commission to make Microsoft offer users several browsers.

"The Internet was founded on choice and openness and this requires a level playing field with multiple options for accessing it," a Google spokesman said in an e-mail response to questions. "From the moment a computer is turned on, people should be able to access a range of browsers easily and quickly."

Mozilla Corp., the developer of Firefox, also has been given third-party status in the case. Mozilla, however, refused to comment when asked its position on the IE8 "kill switch" in Windows 7.

"The important thing is to make sure that the Web stays open and there is a choice," said Opera's von Tetzchner. "We haven't ensured that we won't lose competition in browsers, and that's something worth fighting for."

Last week, the EU extended Microsoft's deadline to reply to the charges over IE until April 21.

This story, "Microsoft's new IE8 'kill switch' not enough, says Opera" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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