Why are people still talking about web browsers like it’s 1995? The EU wants to force Microsoft to include competing browsers with Windows. It came up on the last episode of Cranky Geeks and Sebastian Rupley, of course, thinks it’s a great idea. It’s a horrible idea, poor Microsoft.
Twelve years ago, Microsoft started bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. No doubt, this kinda sucked for Netscape. People had less incentive to download Netscape (which was free) because they already had Internet Explorer (for free). Of course, later versions of Netscape were horrible and buggy, but most people gloss over that fact. Today, Internet Explorer competes mainly with Firefox (and to a lesser extent with Opera, Safari, and Chrome).
I’m resisting using the term “tying” since tying has a more specific meaning in competition law—requiring users of a product over which you have a monopoly to use a supporting product over which you do not—that I don’t think applies to what Microsoft did. Microsoft never forced Windows users to use Internet Explorer. They lowered the barrier to using it and made it impossible to remove, but it was always optional. They relied on the fact that most users don’t care what browser they use and would not bother to take a minute out of their day to switch.
In theory, bundling is still bad because they are using their dominance in one area to their advantage in another. Yet, what did Microsoft gain by pushing Netscape out of business? Market share? What is the value of 100% of the market for a free product? Microsoft’s tactics had nothing to do with Netscape itself. They were trying to make Windows more attractive to people buying a computer. Remember Active Desktop? They were trying to incorporate the web into the operating system; to replace the web browser rather than dominate the market.
Even if bundling was bad a decade ago, it is not a problem now. Can you imagine how people would react if Windows did not come with a web browser? If they had to go to Staples and buy a web browser in a box or download it via ftp? In 2009, the browser is just another accessory people expect to find on their computer. Microsoft also includes Paint, Notepad, Calculator, the clock, a suite of games, and numerous other products all of which have commercially available alternatives. For some reason, the browser has caught hold in the conciousness of the EU as being an accessory especially worthy of alternatives. I see no reason why, if Microsoft is going to include a program with Windows, they shouldn’t choose to include their own. It’s the way the world progresses. There was a time when you needed to buy a separate tuner box to get cable on your TV, until TVs integrated the tuners. There was a time when you had to buy a radio and install it in your car, now radios are standard. All Microsoft is doing is making their operating system do the minimum people expect it to do out of the box. It’s not their fault that most people are content with that.
Posted from Firefox 3 running on Ubuntu 8.10.