There’s much conversation on the web today concerning Opera’s EU antitrust complaint against Microsoft.
The conversation has split into two camps where one groups believes that anything forcing Microsoft to better support current and future web standards is good and the other group believes that governing bodies should have no say in forcing any company to support open standards.
To my mind, the story here is of a practice bigger then versions of IE not supporting web standards. This is more about Microsoft’s standard business MO. We’ve seen it before in a multitude of ways, The recent flap over the Open Document Format (ODF) and a reluctant support of PDF’s in Microsoft Office come to mind. Then there’s Silverlight, an invention of convenance, which Microsoft hopes to use to break the dominance of Adobe’s Flash. Microsoft often promotes these activites as offering “better technology.”
So, this is not just a single instance but a defined Microsoft business practice. Microsoft strives to use of its market share dominance to promote it’s proprietary technology over rival standards and in doing so forces adherence to its own technology. This makes the playing field extremely difficult if not impossible for it’s competitors. But is this unfair or just a smart business practice?
First, let me state that Microsoft is not the only company that use this business practice in one form or another, but they are probably the most well know for it. Microsoft has also been convicted of antitrust practices for similar activities.
I believe we as users benefit from standards. When a company ignores standards to pursue its own proprietary technology it’s not considering what may be best for the users. But then this is business and their decision may not always be a plus for them either.
The biggest voice we as users have is our use, support and demand of/for the open standards we want to succeed. This will have a greater impact then any lawsuit.
As far as this complaint goes, I do believe that it may have a chance of success being it’s filed in the EU. The EU seems to have a low tolerance for Microsoft’s business practices.
You can read some other interesting thoughts on both sides of this subject from Shelly Powers, Burningbird, and Mary Jo Foley, ZDNet.
2007/12/14 Update: It has been pointed out to me that I incorrectly called this a suit when in fact it is a complaint. I stand corrected and will correct the body of this post to reflect it as a complaint. However, in order to preserve the links I will leave the title as it is.