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Originally published December 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 13, 2007 at 3:47 PM

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Web browser maker Opera complains to EU about Microsoft bundling

Web browser developer Opera Software ASA complained to the European Commission about Microsoft Corp. on Thursday and asked regulators to...

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Web browser developer Opera Software ASA complained to the European Commission about Microsoft Corp. on Thursday and asked regulators to force the company to give users a choice of Internet software with its Windows operating system.

The small Norwegian company also alleged that Microsoft was holding developers back from making programs that work with each other "by not following accepted Web standards."

Microsoft said its Internet Explorer browser had been a part of Windows for more than a decade and supported a wide range of Web standards.

"We will of course cooperate with any inquiries into these issues, but we believe the inclusion of the browser into the operating system benefits consumers, and that consumers and PC manufacturers already are free to choose any browsers they wish," Microsoft said.

A complaint can — but does not always — trigger an antitrust investigation by EU regulators.

Some of the claims echo complaints from years ago, when Microsoft was accused of using its monopoly position to wipe out Netscape by bundling its free Explorer browser with Windows. Netscape, which once dominated the market, quickly lost share before it was sold to America Online in 1998.

Opera said it was asking EU regulators to apply the principles of their landmark antitrust ruling against Microsoft — upheld by an EU court in September — to Internet software.

That ruling required Microsoft to market a version of Windows without its media player program, even though there were few takers when it went on sale a year after the antitrust order.

EU antitrust chief Neelie Kroes had warned Microsoft that the order set a precedent for its future behavior in other areas — such as its Office software and its new Vista operating system.

"Microsoft should bear this in mind," Kroes said. "The shop is still open, I can assure you ... there are a couple of other cases still on our desk."

EU officials last year cited possible problems with Vista's integrated security software, Internet search and copyright-protection tools and software that would create PDF-like documents.

Opera is claiming that Microsoft abused its monopoly power as the supplier of software to most of the world's personal computers by giving away its Internet Explorer with Windows and not offering alternative programs.

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It asked the commission to require that Microsoft unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows, include rival browsers in the default Windows installation, or both.

Opera also said it was asking Microsoft to adhere to its own public pronouncements to support open Web standards. It said the European Commission should require Microsoft to follow "fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities."

"Microsoft's unilateral control over standards in some markets creates a de facto standard that is more costly to support, harder to maintain, and technologically inferior and that can even expose users to security risks," Opera said.

Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner said his company was championing open Web standards and "cannot rest until we've brought fair and equitable options to consumers worldwide."

The company now focuses on making browsers for mobile devices, an area where Microsoft is not a major player.

A group of Microsoft rivals, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, endorsed the complaint. "Browsers are the gateway to the Internet. Microsoft seeks to control this gateway," said its legal counsel Thomas Vinje.

The group has made complaints of its own against Microsoft, alleging that the new Vista operating system is the company's attempt to extend its monopoly to the Internet and the company uses Windows to extend its market dominance into other areas, including Web-based computing.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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