I recently read a report suggesting that European officials are considering requiring Microsof
t to strip its popular Web browser, Internet Explorer, from some versions of Windows. Naturally, the debate originated from a competitive browser provider -- in this case, a complaint brought by Opera
In a nutshell, Opera claims that MS is abusing its position as the dominant OS provider by bundling IE with Windows. This practice, according to Opera, limits user choice.
If a ruling against MS is upheld, it wouldn't be the first time. In 2004, the European Commission made a similar ruling, requiring Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without its Windows Media Player. That version, called Windows N, failed miserably. The consumer voice was heard clearly -- they wanted an built-in media application with their operating systems.
The first question that comes to mind, should such a preposterous ruling be passed, is, how can users access the Internet to download alternative browsers if no means of access is provided? Sure, OEMs or retail vendors could install browsers upon purchase, but that is hardly a viable solution, given the frequency with which operating systems must be reinstalled or upgraded. It just doesn't seem reasonable.
In addition to that practical matter, the simple fact is there are several browsers that have gained popularity despite the inclusion of IE with Windows. Firefox, perhaps the most popular third-party browser, has made significant gains in market share over the past four years, jumping from less than 4 percent to more than 20 percent today, according to the report
from the Competitive Enterprise Institute
. During the same period, IE has reportedly seen a dip to below 70 percent from what was nearly a monopoly at 91 percent. Despite the lack of popularity of the Vista operating system, the ascent of Firefox is a testament to user choice in browsers, not operating systems.
Just as most users choose their favorite media player, they also are happy to install their browser of choice, regardless of what is preinstalled. Most Windows systems also come preinstalled with various ISP access software. I don't have the figures on that, but I suspect that may offer convenience to subscribers to those providers, but today, I doubt they drive provider decisions. To blame Microsoft for Opera's inability to gain market share is shortsighted. In fact, it's not over the top to place equal blame on Firefox for the stunted growth of Opera.
Then there's the question of Apple
. We're aware of the success it has seen, particularly in the laptop space, and its Mac OS X comes with Apple's own proprietary Safari browser. I guess Apple just isn't a big enough name to go after?
Whether this is a real attempt to go after Microsoft's bundling practice, or just a shot at exploiting the media to gain attention, I'm not impressed by Opera's tactics.
Given the growth of the mobile market, including devices that offer a real mobile browsing experience (i.e., iPhone, Storm, G1, etc) on 3G networks, Opera might be better served by looking to draw attention to the fact that its Opera Mini offers a significantly faster browsing experience to IE on these devices. In fact, I was quite surprised at the speed with which paged loaded compared to other mobile browsers. There are still some features that need work, but my initial reaction is to use Opera Mini on my Storm, even though there isn't a version optimized for the device yet.
Most software vendors begin in the desktop space and adapt their solutions to mobile platforms. There is no reason Opera can't employ the opposite strategy. We know consumers are creatures of habit, and once they become hooked on Opera Mini, the company can use that as its hook into the home and office environment, instead of creating ill will by attacking a market giant. And if nothing else, isn't there a lesson to be learned from what happened in 2004? For obvious reasons, most consumers want a complete package when they turn on their PCs for the first time.