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Mozilla doesn't need an EU bailout

Mozilla has proved that open-source competition works better than open-source bailouts. A Firefox architect doubts that forcing Microsoft to bundle rival browsers would yield the right outcome.

As reported by CNET, Mozilla has been granted "third-party status" in the European Commission's antitrust case against Microsoft. This gives Mozilla a bird's-eye view of the proceedings, with the ability to raise objections.

Mozilla, however, will be unlikely to raise its objections any louder than Mozilla chair Mitchell Baker already did on her blog:

I've been involved in building and shipping Web browsers continuously since before Microsoft started developing (Internet Explorer), and the damage Microsoft has done to competition, innovation, and the pace of the Web development itself is both glaring and ongoing.

There are separate questions of whether there is a good remedy, and what that remedy might be. But questions regarding an appropriate remedy do not change the essential fact. Microsoft's business practices have fundamentally diminished (in fact, came very close to eliminating) competition, choice, and innovation in how people access the Internet.

So what to do about the problem? Baker is careful to avoid putting forward a suitable remedy, but Firefox architect Mike Connor doubts that forcing Microsoft to bundle rival browsers like Firefox and Opera would be the right outcome. For a lot of reasons, I agree.

As Connor points out, Firefox has managed to achieve 20 percent market share against Microsoft, as measured by Net Applications, despite Microsoft stacking the deck against competition by bundling its own Internet Explorer (IE) browser with Windows.

It has achieved this in part by partnering with Google, and in part by creating a browser that is significantly better than IE in terms of performance, security, extensibility, and just about any other metric, including price (IE is not free--it requires the purchase of Windows to use it or an emulation technology like WINE).

Yes, Baker correctly points out on her blog that Firefox may well be the only example of forcing Microsoft to retrench after it has staked its claim to monopoly market share, but this doesn't obviate the fact that Firefox has, in fact, taken 20 percentage points from Microsoft's share.

Firefox doesn't need an EU handout. It has the market share to prove it. What it does need is expanded partnerships with other consumer technology companies that can introduce it to consumers. Google was perhaps the first, but why not Apple (assuming someone can convince Apple to stop wasting development cycles on Safari)? Or Amazon/eBay/Craigslist (perhaps an optimized shopping experience with Firefox)?

Government is not the answer, as Ars Technica's Ryan Paul opines:

The popularization of the open source development model arguably emerged as a response to Microsoft's monopoly. Developers had to find innovative ways to compete with an entrenched product. If the government had intervened in the software industry at an early stage and those conditions hadn't existed, the browser market could arguably be a lot less rich and competitive than it is today.

It's risky to let the government perpetually equalize the market, because sometimes the greatest innovations appear when inventors have to face tougher odds.

Firefox is disruptive. Force-feeding customers to use it through government fiat is Microsoft-esque, and will be the wrong path for Firefox. Firefox doesn't need favors. It just needs disruptive new routes to market, similar to what it has done with Google and its Get Firefox campaign.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.