Microsoft trying to set own antitrust remedy, says Opera CEO

Stripping out IE from Windows 7 is an attempt to duplicate a failed remedy from an earlier antitrust ruling, Opera says

Microsoft's plan to strip out its Internet Explorer (IE) browser from Windows 7 in Europe, due for sale in the fall, is designed to force the European Commission's hand as it devises an antitrust remedy to restore fair competition in the browser market, said Jon von Tetzchner, the CEO of Norwegian browser maker Opera.

"Microsoft is trying to set the remedy itself by stripping out IE," he said in a phone interview Friday.

Opera complained to the Commission about the bundling of IE in Windows in 2007. The complaint sparked an antitrust probe that resulted in formal charges of monopoly abuse in January this year.

The Commission is now formulating a remedy that would include the creation of a ballot screen containing a selection of browsers for users to choose from when they install Windows on their new computers.

Von Tetzchner said such a remedy is just as important now as it was before Microsoft announced the plan to unbundle IE from the new version of the OS.

Microsoft, however, is trying to derail the process by offering a version of Windows without a browser, said Von Tetzchner. "They are trying to replicate the remedy in the media player case, which we all know didn't work."

"If Microsoft got its way there would be no ballot screen, just a version of Windows that has no browser at all -- just like the edition 'n' of Windows that resulted from the earlier European antitrust case," he said.

In that case in 2004, the Commission ruled that Microsoft had distorted competition in the market for media players by bundling its Windows Media Player into Windows. It ordered the software giant to sell a version of Windows that had the media player stripped out, as well as selling the fully bundled version of Windows.

The ruling didn't insist on a price differential between the two versions. Microsoft complied, launching Windows edition 'n' which, not surprisingly, bombed in the market.

The Commission doesn't want to make the same mistake this time, in its remedy for restoring competition in the browser market, and rival browser makers are insistent that there must be no repeat of the edition 'n' debacle.

"It's very important that there is an effective remedy for the browser market," Von Tetzchner said.

"Now that Microsoft has acknowledged it has been breaking the law by bundling IE into Windows, the Commission must push ahead with an effective remedy," he added.

A ruling by the Commission was expected late this year. Von Tetzchner said it may come sooner, following Microsoft's decision to strip out IE from Windows 7. "Their decision should make room for a faster conclusion," he said.

Microsoft explained its decision to strip out IE from the next version of its OS in Europe in a blog posting. The European Commission responded a few hours later.

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Paul Meller

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