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Google jumps into EU antitrust case against Microsoft

Follows Mozilla with request to join Internet Explorer dispute as 'interested party'

February 24, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Google Inc. today said it has asked the European Union's Competition Commission to let it participate in the antitrust agency's investigation of rival Microsoft Corp., joining browser builders Opera and Mozilla in the case.

"We are applying to become a third party in the European Commission's proceeding," Sundar Pichai, Google's vice president of product management, said in a company blog today.

Last month, the EU's commission submitted a preliminary list of charges, or statement of objections, to Microsoft, and accused it of shielding Internet Explorer (IE) from competition by bundling it with Windows.

Mozilla Corp., the maker of Firefox, had earlier been granted "interested third-party" status, which allows it to submit arguments to regulators, to see the charge sheet the commission sent Microsoft and to participate in a face-to-face hearing if Microsoft requests one.

The Norwegian browser developer Opera Software ASA filed the original complaint with the commission in late 2007.

Pichai said Google is getting involved because the field tilts toward Microsoft. "The browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users," he said. "This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft's dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers."

Google, which launched its own Chrome only last September, cited such features as browser tabs and privacy modes as some of the things that have appeared because of competition among browser makers.

"We believe that we can contribute to this debate," added Pichai. "We learned a lot from launching Chrome last year and are hoping that Google's perspective will be useful as the commission evaluates remedies."

Although the commission has not spelled out what actions it might demand Microsoft take, agency spokesman Jonathan Todd has provided some clues. Microsoft could be fined, forced to let users choose alternate browsers to install in Windows or ordered to allow users to disable IE if a different browser is desired.

Speaking of remedies, Mitchell Baker, former CEO of Mozilla and currently the chairman of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, today offered her take on changes Microsoft might be required to make.

In a blog entry of her own, Baker, who has been commenting regularly on the issue since Mozilla joined the case as an interested party, listed several potential cures, but stopped short of calling them recommendations. One possibility would be to make Microsoft divulge all APIs available to IE to other browser builders, while another would require Microsoft to offer rival browsers whenever IE or Windows is updated, she said.

Other ideas she offered up ranged from bundling Windows with multiple browsers to including none at all. "This implementation ... has some obvious drawbacks for users," Baker acknowledged.

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