WinInfo Daily UPDATE, July 6, 2004

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In the News

- Microsoft Touts US Antitrust Victory to EU
- Browser Wars II? Alternative Browser Downloads Surge in Wake of IE Exploits

==== In the News ====

by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Microsoft Touts US Antitrust Victory to EU

Microsoft officials are hoping that the company's long and winding road to legal victory in the US antitrust case will show European Union (EU) officials that Microsoft is curbing its abusive behavior. Although EU antitrust laws differ from US antitrust laws and the concerns raised in the EU antitrust case are different, Microsoft believes that both cases address the same questions.
"I do hope that people in Europe and around the world will pause and perhaps take a bit of time \[to read the appellate court decision that ended the final legal challenge to the company's US case\]," Microsoft Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary Bradford L. Smith said this weekend. "The decision addresses many of the precisely same questions that are front and center in Europe."
The message is clear: The EU courts don't need to punish Microsoft because the US courts are already curbing the company's behavior. But are they?
One of the frequent complaints about Microsoft's US settlement is that it does little to punish the company or change its behavior. Massachusetts and various industry groups have argued for months that the company's behavior since the settlement proves that Microsoft hasn't curbed its behavior in any way. And the EU's charges, which involve product bundling and withholding technical information from competitors, sound eerily similar to the concerns that the US case raised, even though the entire EU investigation occurred after the US case was resolved.
Regardless of any differences between EU and US law, however, one similarity is likely to be repeated. With an appeals process that could last several years, any eventual outcome in the EU case is likely to be rendered years after it could be an effective curb. As with the US antitrust case, Microsoft can expect a prolonged victory, regardless of how the courts word their decisions.

Browser Wars II? Alternative Browser Downloads Surge in Wake of IE Exploits

The long-stagnant Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) might command about 95 percent of the Web browser market but a recent spate of security vulnerabilities seems to be finally helping IE's competitors make some inroads into the market. Even the usually staid United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has taken the unusual step of advising users to switch to a different browser because of IE's many attacks (see the URL below). The result has been a bonanza for safer browser alternatives such as Mozilla and Opera.
The Mozilla Foundation reports that daily downloads of its Mozilla browser suite and Firefox Web browser have doubled since US-CERT's recommendation; on the day of the US-CERT announcement, the foundation says that users downloaded the products more than 200,000 times. "More people seem to have reached their threshold level of frustration dealing with problems with IE and Windows and have found the Mozilla software a good solution to solving those problems," Chris Hofmann, The Mozilla Foundation's director of engineering, said. "US-CERT's recommendation is just a reflection of the trend we have seen for quite some time."
Experts point to several obvious problems with IE. First, the browser is so widely used that it's a natural attack point. Second, IE is integrated directly into the Windows OS, a curious and ultimately damaging decision that made a previously secure Windows NT-based system vulnerable to new types of attacks. Third, IE technologies such as ActiveX have proven to be highly insecure, and many IE attacks exploit ActiveX-related vulnerabilities. Microsoft will address the latter concern in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) but the company has no plans to provide this functionality in other Windows versions or to completely decouple the browser from its OSs.
The Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software say that they have solutions for the first problem. If the current download rates continue, the browser alternatives might soon be nibbling away at IE's massive market share. If that happens, Web designers will have to take those browsers into account more often when they design Web sites. And because Mozilla and Opera adhere more closely to Web standards than IE does, that situation could eventually lead to dramatic changes on the Web in general. Perhaps future IE versions would also be more standards-compliant as a result, which would make the process of developing Web sites much easier because developers could simply target one standard. Today, IE's market share causes Web developers to target IE's nonstandard technical idiosyncrasies first.

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