Opera, Microsoft, and competition: A plea for an end to the whining

Opera is whining for relevance. It will fail.

Opera has launched a complaint against Microsoft with the regulation-happy European Commission, charging Microsoft with (gasp!) beating it mercilessly in the market. Opera failed to mention that other browsers like Firefox are doing just fine. Instead, it wants to turn its failure to be relevant into a case of victimhood.

My heart bleeds for Opera.

I have no love for Microsoft. I think that's clear from my writings. But I respect it as a competitor and despise companies that ask governments to rectify their own inability to build products that anyone wants.

Opera disagrees, insisting:

In its complaint to the European Commission, Opera said Microsoft hurts it and other makers of browsers because the protocols it uses in its Internet Explorer deviate from the standard protocols that define how Web sites work with browsers.

Because Internet Explorer is distributed with the ubiquitous Windows operating system, it has an insurmountable edge in market share, the complaint said. That forces Web-site owners to design their sites for Internet Explorer's particularities instead of the standard protocols, Opera said. That leaves alternative browsers, which Opera said adhere to the standards, at a disadvantage.

With all due respect to Opera, though there are sites that only seem to understand Internet Explorer (written by developers who barely deserve to carry that title, since all they seem to know how to do is piece together applications using Microsoft's tinkertoy tools), the number is so few as to be almost meaningless. I can't remember the last time I used one. In fact, if anything I've been forced into using Firefox because CNET only works with it (instead of my preferred Safari browser).

Such is life. Get on with it.

Mary Jo Foley is right: trying to set web standards through litigation like this is ill-advised and will likely result in consequence no one, including Opera, wants.

This isn't a case of Microsoft against Opera. It's a case of Microsoft against the industry, with equally powerful players (like Google) on the other side. Google doesn't need the EC to help it out. It has something called competition going for it. Regulation is a distraction.

Could it be that Opera emasculated its own efforts long ago by trying to sell a browser into a market that had decided that browsers are free? It changed this policy, but perhaps it would have been relevant had it not waited so long. Opera provides a good browser but, let's face it, there is no room in the market for a small independent browser. It's either community-based (Firefox) or corporate-based with a strong base offering (Apple, Microsoft).

Opera doesn't need the EC to wring a few Euros out of Microsoft for it. It should focus on competing for customers, not on regulating its way into relevance.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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