Mozilla, Opera blast Microsoft over IE8 upgrade practice

Opera wants the EU to make Microsoft download other browsers to PCs with Windows Update

Browser makers Mozilla and Opera accused Microsoft Thursday of force feeding Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) to users with Windows Update and silently changing the default browser on PCs.

Both companies, which make Firefox and Opera, respectively, are involved in the European Union's antitrust action against Microsoft, which was accused in January of "shielding" IE from competition by bundling the browser with Windows.

"Using the Windows Update channel to update Internet Explorer in any way that undermines user choices is a clear example of how Microsoft uses its monopoly position to damage competition in related products," said Mitchell Baker, the chairman of Mozilla, in an e-mail Thursday. Baker was traveling and not immediately available for an interview.

Hakon Wium Lie, Opera Software's chief technology officer, echoed Baker, citing his company's long-standing issue with Microsoft's distribution method for IE. "We're concerned both about the bundling of IE with Windows, and about Microsoft using Windows Update to reset user choice," said Lie.

Baker and Lie took exception to the process that Microsoft is using to offer IE8 to customers running the older IE6 and IE7 editions. When users receive an upgrade offer to IE8 via Windows Update, accept the offer and install the browser, then select the "Use express settings" option, IE8 becomes the default browser on the machine, even if a rival had been previously pegged as such.

Microsoft has defended the practice. "Users continue to have complete control over IE8 settings and behavior throughout the first-run experience and ongoing use," argued Eric Hebenstreit, IE lead program manager, in an entry to a company blog last week. "For example, if IE is not the default browser in Windows, the option to change this setting is presented in a wizard that runs the first time IE8 is launched."

(Hebenstreit included a modified screenshot of the IE8 setup dialog that omitted the "Default Browser: Internet Explorer" item from the seven-item list. Microsoft was not immediately able to explain why Hebenstreit used an edited screenshot.)

Lie countered Hebenstreit's claims. "[Express settings] does show that IE8 will become the default browser, but only if you read the small print," Lie said. "And it's the second-to-last item. Most users will use express, which has clearly been designed by Microsoft so [users] shouldn't even think about those things."

The alternative, which is to pick "Choose custom settings," is, added Lie, "a laborious series of questions." Among the questions that appear when a user chooses custom settings is one that explicitly asks whether to make IE8 the default browser.

Microsoft began pushing the new browser to users via Automatic Updates last week; Hebenstreit's defense was prompted by multiple blog posts, including this one on PCWorld, a Computerworld sister publication, that criticized the practice.

The EU's Competition Commission case against IE stemmed from a December 2007 complaint by Opera, which said IE "harmed the Web" and demanded Microsoft unbundle the browser and adhere to Web standards.

Since January, several rivals, including Mozilla and Google -- the latter because of its Chrome browser -- joined the case as third-party participants. Several weeks ago, a trade group that includes other competitors, among them Adobe, IBM and Oracle, were also given access to the allegations.

Although EU regulators have not spelled out what they may demand of Microsoft, the agency has hinted it could fine the company, force it to allow users to choose alternate browsers or require it to disable IE.

Opera wants the commission to make Microsoft offer alternate browsers using the same Windows Update service the latter relies on to upgrade IE. "That's one possible remedy," said Lie, who called it a "must-carry" solution, meaning Windows would have to provide multiple browsers, not just IE.

In Lie's scenario, Windows Update would offer a number of choices as optional downloads by providing small executables that would in turn download and install Firefox, Chrome, Opera or other browsers. "Or Windows Update could pre-fetch all those browsers," Lie said, and have them ready to install when the user chooses which browser to run.

"We've suggested this to the EU," Lie confirmed.

Microsoft will have the opportunity to defend itself against the antitrust charges in a hearing before the commission June 3-5. It has already filed a lengthy written response to the accusations.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Microsoftoperaie8mozilla firefox

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?