Opera Brings Antitrust Suit Against Microsoft

Opera Software, which makes a niche Web browser for PCs and mobile devices, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft with the European Union (EU) on Wednesday. The complaint charges Microsoft with abusing its monopoly in the PC market by bundling Internet Explorer (IE) in Windows and not following widely-accepted Web standards.

"We are filing this complaint on behalf of all consumers who are tired of having a monopolist make choices for them," says Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner. "In addition to promoting the free choice of individual consumers, we are a champion of open Web standards and cross-platform innovation. We cannot rest until we've brought fair and equitable options to consumers worldwide."

Opera would like to see Microsoft be forced to unbundle IE from Windows or include other browsers, like Opera's, in the dominant operating system. The company would also like the EU to force Microsoft to adhere to Web standards in IE.

While much of this argument will seem familiar to anyone who has followed Microsoft's various antitrust ills over the past decade, the standards bit offers a new twist: Opera says that incompatibilities between the various Web browsers on the market forces Web site operators to support only the most popular. And today, most Web sites are still designed specifically to work with IE, even though that browser isn't particularly well-made from a standards perspective. Other browsers, like Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Opera Browser 9, are more standards compliant.

"Microsoft's unilateral control over standards in some markets creates a de facto standard that is more costly to support, harder to maintain, and technologically inferior and that can even expose users to security risks," an Opera statement reads. "Absent Microsoft's abuse, Microsoft would have been forced to compete on a level playing field with Opera and other browsers. Instead of innovating, Microsoft has locked consumers to its own browser and only recently begun to offer some of the innovative features that other browsers have offered for years."

While Opera's goals are obviously self-serving, the pro-consumer nature of its suit may find some support within the EU, which has proven to be far more consumer-friendly than antitrust regulators in the US. That Opera is a European company, based in Norway, also adds a none-too-subtle undertone to the proceedings.

That said, Opera's complaint is not a slam dunk. While the EU has been mostly successful in its antitrust fight with Microsoft, the one area in which it clearly failed concerned product bundling: In 2005, Microsoft was forced to sell versions of Windows that did not include a bundled version of Windows Media Player. These so-called Windows N Editions fared poorly in the market, and sold in negligible numbers.

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