Opera CEO Sets Up New Browser War with Microsoft

By David Lawsky, Reuters  |  Posted 2007-12-20 Print this article Print

A small Norwegian software company says with a level playing field it can take on mighty Microsoft in a new battle of the browsers because it has a better product, picking up where the now-defunct Netscape left off in the 1990s.

BRUSSELS— A small Norwegian software company says with a level playing field it can take on mighty Microsoft Corp. in a new battle of the browsers because it has a better product, picking up where the now-defunct Netscape left off in the 1990s.

Opera, which like Microsoft and Firefox manufactures Web browsers, says the humble browser has become increasingly more important to consumers as the years have passed.

"These days people spend more time in front of their Web browser then they do in front of their television set," said Jon von Tetzchner, chief executive of Opera Software of Norway.

The company that controls Web browsers could potentially change the underlying operating system without upsetting users, because so much of what they do is on the browser.

That would threaten Windows, which enjoys a 95 percent share of operating systems on PCs worldwide.

Today people use email, do banking, make airplane and hotel reservations, read newspapers, play games, do research and look at photos and operate virtually all Google operations without leaving their browser.

At work, people submit expenses, ask for vacation time off and deal with customers on their browser.

U.S. courts found nearly a decade ago that Microsoft so feared the power of the browser that it used its Windows operating system to illegally force out rival Netscape.

A European Union court made a similar ruling this year about Microsoft's tactics, this time involving media players and server software. That court ruling backed up a landmark European Commission decision from 2004.

The EU court decision encouraged Opera to filed a complaint with the European Commission this month about browsers.

"We are an innovative company. We have been hampered by Microsoft's activities," von Tetzchner says. Microsoft had no immediate comment.

Opera has a 1 to 2 percent share of the PC market and a 5 percent share of mobile devices. Even on a level playing field it would find itself tiny compared with far more popular Firefox and the dominant Internet Explorer browsers.

But that is not daunting to von Tetzchner.

Once Microsoft defeated Netscape it sat on its hands instead of continuing to improve its product, becoming a traditional lazy monopolist in the view of von Tetzchner.

"We didn't sit still while Microsoft wasn't working on the browser," von Tetzchner said.

Opera added the ability to zoom, to restore old sessions, to open new windows in tabs to ease switching and to use the mouse or keyboard to trigger shortcuts, he said.

Von Tetzchner wants the European Commission to order two remedies that he says would force Microsoft to compete fairly with Opera and Firefox.

First, he says that one way Microsoft has preserved its dominance is by ignoring some of the standards it helped develop as part of the industry group W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium.

Users find some Web sites work with Internet Explorer but not with rivals, because Microsoft has added proprietary tweaks, von Tetzchner said. Standards would be enforced by a trustee.

Microsoft said when the Opera complaint was filed that "Internet Explorer has been an integral part of the Windows operating system for over a decade and supports a wide range of Web standards".

In fact, that kind of integration by Microsoft -- also known as tying -- was found illegal by the European Union court for media players.

Von Tetzchner is not asking for Internet Explorer to be unbundled. The Commission forced Microsoft to unbundle Windows Media Player and the resulting product failed to sell.

Instead, Von Tetzchner wants the Commission to force Windows to carry several browsers. At one point, Microsoft offered precisely such a remedy in the media player software case, but that was ultimately turned down by the Commission.

A purchaser of a computer could choose among browsers, or let the machine pick one randomly.

"We would do the support" of Opera, he said.

(Editing by David Cowell}

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