Opera vs Microsoft Reprise | January 2, 2008

Thanks for all the fantastic comments on my previous post about Opera’s complaint to the European Commission. Sorry it’s taken a while to post a follow-up, but I moved house over the holidays and BT haven’t sorted out my Internet connection yet. Anyway, I’ll try to address some of the issues that were raised in the comments, but apologies if I miss anything out.

I personally believe that Microsoft have been doing a great job over the last couple of years brining their browser up to scratch. IE7 still has a few issues, but then again, what browser doesn’t? So I honestly think IE is pretty comparable with its competition in regards to current standards support. Future standards support is another issue, but I’ll cover that in a future post.

As a quick aside, the concept of “fully standards complaint” is a tricky one and the reason why CSS2.1 is taking so long to finish. The CSS2 specification was very loose and didn’t cover error handling or fall-back cases. As such, each browser took it’s own stance and you ended up with them technically following the spec while at the same time behaving differently. CSS2.1 attempts to address this problem by defining these niche issues, but as you can imagine it’s taking a long time.

I agree that IE7 is a much more capable browser these days, so many of the concerns developers have about Microsoft’s market dominance have vanished. This is one reason why I think Opera should remove the issue of standards support from their complaint. This leaves the complaint purely about monopolistic business practices which, from the content of your comments on my previous post, people seem less concerned about. This makes perfect sense as we’re mostly concerned with making our lives and the lives of our users easier, rather than worrying about the ethics of global business.

However on the ethics side, I think it’s important to make the distinction between people not being able to pre-install a different browser on their machines and simply not wanting to. I agree that most hardware manufacturers would probably stick with IE as, like a few people mentioned, that’s what most home users expect. However surely manufacturers should have the right to install whatever browser they want on their hardware? I could definitely see a case where manufacturers would try to distinguish themselves through the software they bundle with their machines. And I could foresee large companies such as IBM buying computers pre-installed with Firefox rather than IE.

The issue isn’t about supplying a PC to end users that doesn’t come with a browser pre-installed. That would obviously be stupid. The issue is about allowing computer manufacturers, and by extension their end users, to choose what browser or browsers come pre-installed. Whether people choose to exercise that right is another matter.

Posted at January 2, 2008 3:43 PM

Comments

AlastairC said on January 2, 2008 4:22 PM

Very reasonable, but there is a grey area in the last part. Anyone can install another browser on Windows, however, you still must have IE for basic system functions like Windows update.

The other grey area is that I’ve heard complaints (some time ago admittedly) that MS would pressure computer manufacturers to install certain applications, effectively punishing those who provide alternatives.

NB: It’s quite funny that you pick IBM as someone who would buy lots of computers, considering they used to produce a lot of them! ;)

Rob said on January 2, 2008 5:14 PM

“So I honestly think IE is pretty comparable with its competition in regards to current standards support.”

Really? I say IE7 is 10 years behind web standards and doesn’t come close to other browsers in standards support. Visit webdevout.com and do some comparing. Visit the W3C’s DOM section to test IE7 against other browsers for DOM support. And what of XHTML, SVG, etc.

I am shocked you would think IE7 is even remotely comparable to any other browser.

Jeff Lynch said on January 2, 2008 7:28 PM

Andy,

You’ve provided what I consider a well-balanced summary of the current situation between Opera and Microsoft.

Antitrust legislation in the US is much different than in Europe and it should be interesting to see if a summary judgment is awarded or if the complaint is revised or even dropped in light of Microsoft’s recent ACID2 test results.

Thanks for providing a well thought-out post on a difficult topic to address unemotionally.

pauldwaite said on January 2, 2008 9:59 PM

I am shocked you would think IE7 is even remotely comparable to any other browser.

It all depends what you’re doing with it, doesn’t it? For the day-to-day web development I’ve done since IE 7 came out, I’ve found it pretty close to Firefox, Safari and Opera (all of which have their own issues). But I mostly do CSS, and don’t have to muck about with the DOM very much.

Rob said on January 2, 2008 10:59 PM

“For the day-to-day web development I’ve done since IE 7 came out, I’ve found it pretty close to Firefox, Safari and Opera (all of which have their own issues).”

Again, I invite everyone to visit webdevout.com and make comparisons. IE7 is far, far behind every other browser. I do web dev, too, btw.

dusoft said on January 3, 2008 9:44 AM

Make browser standalone from OS. Really old debate, isn’t it?

Is it possible, though? No, save the command line, it isn’t. There would be no GUI to install programs (download programs from the internet) and no GUI means zero convenience for most users.

So, whole argument about keeping browser standalone or providing an alternative one (this is just plain silly - supporting competition? common), is just out of debate.

Safari is includes in Apple Mac, Konqueror is a part of KDE, Gnome has its own browsers etc etc etc.

Opera has just made a good whipping boy of itself, because they had hoped for support from community, but there is no such need in community as we are not on the brink of end of browser wars with domination of one among others.

Alex said on January 4, 2008 5:31 AM

Interesting article, Andy, but I have to disagree with your comments about ie7 being pretty much standards compliant. If you are doing a static website, then yes, ie7 does a pretty good job. But if you are creating an interactive web application using javascript and ajax then it is a complete nightmare, throwing up scores of inexplicable glitches. Personally, i do not do not think microsoft did web developers any favours releasing ie7. Now, not only do i have to waste time dealing with ie6 bugs but also extra time solving ie7’s glitches. Opera might be cynically taking advantage of developer’s hostility to microsoftt but at least they are competent enough to develop a quality product. This is more than can be said of microsoft.

Axel Berger said on January 4, 2008 7:20 PM

Interesting discussion. But what happened to the standards?

IE is officially a part of Windows. Windows is a commercial product and costs real money. There are standards and IE does not comply. So what about a full refund?

With every other kind of commecial goods this would be a matter of course without the slightest question. What is it that makes Bill Gates and the software industry special?

This question applies just as much to the other side. If a plumber or an electrician does substandard noncompliant work, not only do I not pay him but I can also charge him for having someone else put the damage to my house right. But “designers” of sites that don’t even validate still expect to get paid. Why and for what?

In this part of the argument Opera is absolutely onto the right track.

Steve Heyes said on January 8, 2008 6:22 PM

Very interesting article. One question I have is how would a user who buys a new computer download the browser they wanted if there was no means of getting onto the internet to download it. I may be mistaken, but surely you need a browser to get a different one (unless it came on a CD)

So the computer distributers would have to provide a way for the user to choose what browser to have installed on their computer. Maybe on the start up CD you could have them all on there and the user chooses which one(s) to install?

Its defiantly worth remembering that this would have to be the case across all computers and OS’s. Dell have recently given the consumer a choice between Linux and Windows. However, as dusoft said, all OS’s have pre-installed their own browsers. They would all have to comply otherwise it would be pointless.

It would be interesting to see who would get the market share if this did happen. I think Opera would do pretty well…

Andy Budd said on January 9, 2008 11:56 AM

The computer manufacturers/distributors would install whatever browsers they wanted onto their machines before they sold them. The user wouldn’t choose a to have a particular browser installed, but could choose a particular machine/vendor knowing that it came with Firefox rather than IE say.

Spencer Lavery said on January 11, 2008 9:47 AM

Anybody choosing/purchasing a PC based upon which browser comes pre-installed is a moron at best.

Opera are chancing it, we all know that, but at the very least they’re attempting to get Web Standards up there in the spotlight too, despite them having much to do with the suit.

IE monopolises the browser industry because the majority of users are lazy, uninformed, or both. We should spend less time complaining about something that will never change and more time educating our friends/family in an attempt to facilitate that very change. Nobody I know uses IE anymore, if anyone you know does, get to work.

Rob said on January 12, 2008 6:30 AM

Well, guys, the truth comes out. IE8 does NOT pass Acid2. I knew eventually we would see the real truth.

When Microsoft announced that IE8 passed Acid2 on an internal build, I was very suspicious when they started talking of “IE8 standards mode”. “Uh, oh. What is this?”, I asked, and how does it apply to web standards.

Turns out, it is a proprietary “flag” which must be inserted into your web page markup to trigger this “IE8 standards mode” which, of course, makes that part of your page invalid. This flag is not set by the Acid2 test so…guess what my friends…IE8 does not pass Acid2!
From Wikipedia:
“However, the version of IE8 that will be released will not pass Acid2 as it will require pages to specifically request to be rendered in IE8 standards mode, and Acid2 does not request this.”

AMO said on January 22, 2008 9:57 AM

MS won browser war not only because of monopoly. Just remember early Netscape browser - when IE came it was competition between all-in-one vs. set of tools. Set usually wins. Programmable, reusable set wins for sure. Especially if we talk about software.

MS advantage over Opera or Mozilla is in taking care about developers who will use the browser.

It’s not a praise to MS, it’s rather pointing onto competitors’ fault they try to hide in courts. MS uses very simple but effective strategy: reusability -> greater third-party products number -> greater number of installations.