Mozilla CEO: Firefox is 'a crack in the Microsoft monopoly'

If there is indeed a new spirit of cooperation and interoperability embodied by the US' new leadership, then it has apparently stopped short of the Web browser market, where a very old argument rages on.

In a belated response to an already ancient topic that for many had already become so dead that you can't quite tell the carcass was a horse any more, Mozilla Chairman and CEO Mitchell Baker declared on her blog late last week her current opinion: Microsoft continues, she says, to apply monopoly pressure on the Web market by distributing Internet Explorer in such a way that customers are not aware that they have a choice.

"Mozilla Firefox has made a crack in the Microsoft browser monopoly. But even so, hundreds of millions of people use old versions of IE, often without knowing what a browser is or that they have any choice in the quality of their experience. This makes it very difficult to bring innovation, choice or improved user experience to vast parts of the Internet. The extent of the damage is so great that it makes it difficult to figure out an effective and timely remedy. I believe it's worth some effort to try."

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Last month's latest Statement of Objections from the European Commission against Microsoft -- the text of which remains private -- is described by the EC as having restated the case that tying IE to Windows reduces competitors' ability to present alternatives.

At the time, the EC stated publicly, "The evidence gathered during the investigation leads the Commission to believe that the tying of Internet Explorer with Windows, which makes Internet Explorer available on 90% of the world's PCs, distorts competition on the merits between competing web browsers insofar as it provides Internet Explorer with an artificial distribution advantage which other web browsers are unable to match. The Commission is concerned that through the tying, Microsoft shields Internet Explorer from head to head competition with other browsers which is detrimental to the pace of product innovation and to the quality of products which consumers ultimately obtain. In addition, the Commission is concerned that the ubiquity of Internet Explorer creates artificial incentives for content providers and software developers to design websites or software primarily for Internet Explorer which ultimately risks undermining competition and innovation in the provision of services to consumers."

Though general reporting this morning is that Mozilla has "joined the lawsuit" against Microsoft by the EC, Mozilla has not confirmed to Betanews that it is contemplating any legal action against the company -- to be specific, the organization remains silent on this issue to Betanews. In fact, the Statement of Objections is not a lawsuit at all.

As the EC itself explained last month, "A Statement of Objections is a formal step in Commission antitrust investigations in which the Commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. The addressee of a Statement of Objections can reply in writing to the Statement of Objections, setting out all facts known to it which are relevant to its defence against the objections raised by the Commission. The party may also request an oral hearing to present its comments on the case."

Microsoft had eight weeks from January 15 to present an oral defense in open hearing, and about four weeks of that interval have already passed. Its position on the matter has not changed since January 16. After the hearing, the EC may decide whether to take legal action on this issue, and that action would be a government affair, not a civil suit.

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