Opera files a complaint to the European Commision about Internet Explorer

Opera brings Microsoft and Internet Explorer in front of the European Commission with an antitrust complaint.

HÃ¥kon Wium Lie, the CTO of Opera, has written an open letter to the web community about why Opera has filed a formal complaint. The gist is because Internet Explorer has failed to support web standards for so long, and the reason that they also want to cut the ties between Internet Explorer and Windows.

Hard words.

What’s good

At a first look, as a web developer I want to cheer, since IE’s poor web standards support in general is the reason that a web site takes twice as long to develop had it had proper support. IE 7 is still way behind the competitors, but has in my book made things better (although proper event handling and other script-related issues has to be seen to as soon as possible).

Something which would be good, of course, is if all major web browsers would have an equal share of the market; 25% each for IE, Firefox, Safari and Opera respectively. And the overly strong connection between Internet Explorer and the operating system does indeed need to be loosened.

What’s questionable

The downside with this complaint is that it comes from another web browser manufacturer, which unfortunately takes the edge off the whole situation. If a competitor can’t succeed, let’s sue the ones who are the most successful…

And, as pointed out in other forums, there is no law about web standards, just an organization offering recommendations. Kind of hard to lose a case about best practises…

Opera are themselves pretty good at web standards, although in my experience, most things they have implemented are great, except for the fact that there’s always some key part missing, which at times renders that specific technological approach all-in all unusable (last experience for me: XPath bugs).

So, to be a web browser vendor and bitch about lack of support in another web browser is either daring, or just plain stupid. Not sure which, yet. However, Opera has a notorious history of trying to support every feature of IE, but at times slightly differently implemented, which has given us web developers a lot of grief and extra work. Tread lightly, Opera. Are you sure you’re entitled to cast the first stone?

What’s the option?

The idea is to either unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows, something which just isn’t feasible. In the words of one of the Opera employees himself: how do you download another web browser, unless you have one to begin with? So, the other option is to “carry alternative browsers pre-installed on the desktop”, which sounds like a much better idea.

But just imagine the ruckus about which other web browsers to include then, what versions of them etc. And I’m fairly convinced Microsoft would do anything in their power to include lesser versions of any competing web browser, if they have the slightest opportunity (which is, most likely, exactly the same Opera would have done in their place).

What will come out of this?

I really have no idea. Is it good to shun some light on the fact that IE is pretty bad with web standards, and that maybe it isn’t a good idea for the major operating system to live in a wedlock with its web browser? Doesn’t everyone already know this?

The interesting part, though, is if the European Commission deem this as worthy claims, and will act upon them. Because if they do, they just might have the power to change the web browser market as we see it today.

12 Comments

  • Scott Powers says:

    Ballsy but warranted, in my opinion. So maybe Opera wasn't the best browser producer to come forward but they do bring 2 valid points. Give users options from the start and be standards compliant.

    The latter is obviously something every CSS Designer on the net has been screaming forever to no avail. Maybe this is the kick in the ass that MS needs. None of us can say for sure what will come of it but we can say what we would like to see come of it. And that is, most likely, much the same for all of us. Get standards compliant, period.

    Really I could care less if IE is bundled with windows. People like me, and most likely everyone else reading here, only ever fire it up to download our favorite browser initially or for those highly annoying IE only websites which are getting to be fewer and fewer, thank god.

    Standards Compliance, though, is a must for IE. But, like I said, those screams have fallen on deaf ears up until now so what makes any of us think they'll hear us because Opera bitches about them? I don't expect much to come of it but one can hope.

  • Sadly though, not everyone knows how bad IE really is, otherwise it wouldn't be the dominant browser for much longer.

    Perhaps a better idea would be if all web professionals just started billing MS for lost revenues due to their crappy software. A few thousand bills should be enough to get some much needed publicity, that they can't just make go away in an appeals court or just drag on until media loses interest.

  • Hi Robert,

    Indeed it will be interesting to see what comes out of this. I think Opera would have had a stronger case if they just focused on one issue – having Windows prompt users to install/use different browsers or forcing Microsoft to comply with Web standards.

    I had an opportunity to interview HÃ¥kon today about the complaint to EU. He clarified Opera's position on the Web standards part of the complaint. Here is the interview:

    http://xhtml.com/en/web-standards/conversation-wi

  • David Storey says:

    Hi Robert,

    Feel free to send us any bug reports you have on our XPath implementation. We've just included a new XSLT and XPath engine in the latest weeklies of Kestrel, so you may find that they are fixed now.

  • Carl Camera says:

    Scott Powers: Standards Compliance, though, is a must for IE. But, like I said, those screams have fallen on deaf ears…

    I don't believe calls for compliance have fallen on deaf ears. I think there are large corporations that have tens of millions of dollars invested in external and internal websites that oppose any changes to IE, and most vociferously oppose any layout changes. These corporations have enormous influence within Microsoft.

    In the eyes of many, IE7 — by complying with w3c recommendations — broke the web. Huge sites such as Yahoo! had to spend significant amounts of time energy and resources to adapt to the new standards-conforming browser. This is the burden of having 80% marketshare: folks who have never heard of the w3c complain to Microsoft that the new browser broke their site.

    Microsoft knew it would take a huge PR hit from its most influential customers by moving IE towards w3c compliance but did so anyway. Now, how do those who "screamed" for w3c compliance react? We must all answer that individually.

  • Carl, if IE 7 broke pages on sites such as Yahoo, it would have been because of IE 7 bugs, not related to complying with W3C standards. Complying with W3C standards only affects sites that are designed to render in "standards" mode and would not affect sites that are designed to render in "quirks" mode. Do you have an example of a Web page on Yahoo that rendered in "standards" mode in IE 6 and then got broken in IE 7?

  • mdmadph says:

    I guess the legal situation in the EU wasn't as nice for Opera to do this years ago during the time of IE 6 when their case would've been even stronger.

  • Carl Camera says:

    Vlad, there was more than one reason why sites needed adjustments to accommodate changes in IE7. My selection of Yahoo! was poor because those folks know and follow web standards. I would, however, like to reiterate what I feel was my central thought: that large corporations don't read Nyman's blog or Johansson's blog, or Meyer's blog. And their only perception (perhaps because they don't read those blogs) was "It worked in IE6 – why did IE7 break my site?" Microsoft took some heat from those customers (MS claims) because they, in fact, support web standards.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    Vlad,

    Thanks for the interview link, it gives some perspective.

    David,

    Thanks! I will do my best to get back to you on this,

    Carl, Vlad,

    Overall, well-built web sites should work from the get-go with IE 7 (some IE 7 bugs excepted). But, I do believe Carl has a point here too. Most people don't know about web standards and were shocked about the upgrade. For instance, a lot of web sites use a doctype which will trigger the standards mode without knowing so.

    Just think that the default doctype in .NET examples and templates uses an XHTML 1 Transitional doctype, that will indeed get them into a more strict mode, which in turn will make them hate the upgrade (given the strict rendering differences between IE 6 and IE7). Just imagine the difference in that <code>height</code> in CSS is fixed in IE 7, so it behaves as it should, instead of the <code>min-height</code> behavior in IE 6.

    So, I'd say you're both right. 🙂

    But, at the end of the day, if IE won't support web standards enough, many companies won't be able to motivate the extra costs of making something work in IE. And then Microsoft will be stuck with the people not knowing about interface development at all (the same people who complain as soon as things don't work in any other web browser in iE, and at the same time don't think for a second that the fault actually might be theirs).

    And for Microsoft to let their web development business to depend on people and companies, no matter how large, that refuse to evolve and to actually learn their trade, is a very risky path to take. Therefore, if Microsoft don't implement standards as good as, or better, than the competitors, they will, in time, lose their dominance over the web browser market. For sure.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    @David,

    You are right! Kestrel has fixed both the issues I had! Looking forward to the release.

  • You can unbundle the web browser in a sense by having it as an optional item to check during installation.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Robert Wellock,

    And then reinstall it from an easy-to-find location, in case you want to surf the web? Maybe. Personally I'd rather see them get a dialog with a number of web browser options instead (a bit hard for them to choose then, though).

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