Advocacy groups urge EC not t…

Advocacy groups urge EC not too settle browser antitrust case


The Free Software Foundation Europe and OpenForum Europe are concerned that Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes could settle too soon on the EC's antitrust case about tying of Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser with the company's operating systems.

Both open source advocacy groups want the EU's Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes to demand that Microsoft pre-installs competing web-browsers.

The FSFE, one of the groups involved in the antitrust case, fears Kroes will try to settle the EU's antitrust case with the software company before the end of her term at the Commission. "Giving herself only a few days or weeks to close the deal, means that she will have to settle the case on Microsoft's terms, perhaps with a few token concessions", writes FSFE president Karsten Gerloff in an open letter published earlier this week.

Another public letter was published by Graham Taylor, chief executive of OpenForum Europe. "This judgement is not just about about righting the past but ensuring the openness of the future. With this Commission ending shortly I can understand the wish to complete, but it has to be the right resolution. The Commission needs to keep up its good work, and not fall short now."

The Commission wants European consumers to have a real choice in web browsers. According to the Commission, the development of new online services makes web browsers an increasingly important tool for businesses and consumers. "A lack of real consumer choice on this market would undermine innovation", the EC wrote in June.

Ballot screen

Microsoft has proposed to settle the EU's antitrust case by presenting users the choice to install other browser than its own. Competing browsers would then be downloaded and installed.

Both the FSFE and OpenForum Europe argue that the company should pre-install competing browsers. "Downloads are cumbersome if you have a slow connection and may fail", writes Gerloff for instance. "This makes choosing an alternative more difficult."

Only by pre-installing competing web browsers, users are given a free choice, he argues. "No lengthy download and installation procedures, no fiddling with setup menus, and no need to tell every single application that it should use your preferred browser rather than the one that happens to be made by the same company as your operating system."

The FSFE says the Commission should not accept Microsoft's proposed settlement or believe its promises on interoperability. "If the Commission were to strike a deal on this basis, the lack of competition in browsers and desktop applications will remain just as bad as it is now."

According to Gerloff, the FSFE joined the browser antitrust case as an interested third party to address the fact that Microsoft's browser does not follow web standards. "Unfortunately, the EC dropped that issue, because it was too thorny."

IT news site Computerworld reported yesterday that the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) has demonstrated an alternative web browser ballot screen to EC's antitrust regulators. The alternative is to fix issues with installing and downloading competing web browsers.

More information:

FSFE president's open letter

OpenForum Europe statement

EC statement

EC documents on the antitrust case

Computerworld news item

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