Opera have fired the latest salvo in the Browser Wars by filing a complaint with the European Commission.
The browser wars are nothing new. The struggle to gain dominance of browser usage has raged since the 90’s when Microsoft engaged in battle with Netscape. The two companies did not support the same protocols so it was common to see lines like “This website is best viewed in Netscape Navigator 4.0.”
Just when Microsoft thought they had beaten Netscape, it morphed into Mozilla and came back with a vengeance. Firefox was open source and followed Web Standards. Developers loved it and by all measurements it was ahead of Microsoft. Yet inspite of being a superior product, Microsoft continued to dominate. Over time Firefox has continued to increase market share, but Microsoft is still the market leader.
In November 2006 Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7. Although in many areas it was still inferior to browsers like Firefox and Opera it made great strides in Web Standards. Microsoft actively consulted the web standards community, even employing individuals like Molly Holzschlag to advise on standards support. Molly continues to be employed by Microsoft, presumably with a view to helping Microsoft understand and support standards in their browser product.
Opera’s complaint would seem to be two fold. First it claims that Microsoft is not following web standards and that this is hurting the web. To some extent that is true and it certainly would have been true for Internet Explorer 6. But the IE7 release has actively tried to address these shortfalls and I would suggest that in a court they can refute this claim. The second would seem to be that Microsoft uses Windows to push products to users without offering them a choice. This claim is far more valid. Unless users are savvy enough they may never know that other browsers exist.
For me the bigger issue is that most internet users still don’t understand the difference between browsers. The fact that the worst browser in the market has been dominant in recent times points to two things. Firstly Microsoft pushes the browser via Windows, but secondly users are not aware of the choice they have. Browsers are free after all and there is nothing stopping users moving to a more secure, better performing product.
Perhaps it will take a legal ruling, and the publicity surrounding it to move consumers to make a choice. That is the bedrock of any market and promotes better products after all. For whatever reason (and even with the advances made in IE7) the market leader is still an inferior product. Ensuring users have a choice is good for everyone, in what must be one of the most competitive areas of the web. If successful the Opera complaint might just alert users to the choice they have and inform them why they should act on it.
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