PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Opera – another song and dance for Microsoft..?
March 1998

Whilst America’s most famous Bills continue to get it in the neck for assorted alleged crimes and misdemeanours with appearances on just about every form of judicial stage in the USA between them, one of the unsung heroes of the web browsing industry continues to struggle against gargantuan odds by plugging away with “an alternative browser”. And I don’t mean Netscape.

In the opinion of us hacks who had to try and deal with the massive egos at Netscape in its heyday, Netscape was possibly the most unpleasant company in the industry to deal with, and carried its arrogance with considerably less aplomb than Microsoft, who by that time had started to mellow a little. In the minds of many, Netscape’s attitude problem helped to “blow it” for them, and was reminiscent of the attitude problem that effectively prevented Apple – another company that once had a better product at a crucial moment in the evolution of the industry – from making it to the top of the big league.

The subtle leverage that deferred the move on Microsoft seemed to be based on the feeling that there while there was no alternative, and that as long as the US IT machine was kicking the rest of the world’s “IT ass”, then let’s not rock the boat. But latterly, American politicians have shown an astonishing capacity, even glee, at rocking the US ship of state in what looks like an effort to unseat Bill Clinton at any cost, and so the cloak of invisibility that had hitherto been allowed to shroud Microsoft’s monopolist tactics, fell away, leaving Bill Gates’ minion a number of hard times trying to explain internal emails and memos that brought the words “smoking” and “gun” to mind.

Which brings us to Opera Software A/S, a company from Norway (yes, you read that correctly) that has stuck at the task of providing the internet with an alternative to one of the gruesome twosome. It’s main claim to fame is that the download is 1.3MB, and when I last looked Netscape 4.5 was around 18Mbyte, and MS Explorer was simply “off the end of the meter”.

The very notion that MSIE requires the user to make fundamental changes to the operating system is of course at the core of several of the arguments presently being waged in court in the US, but it is without any doubt a manifestation of the monopoly power of Microsoft, and a wonderful illustration of the argument that says operating systems and applications must be kept apart with more than the sort of paper thin and rather moth-eaten Chinese Wall that a rabid operation like Microsoft can provide.

If the EC decides to use its curiously arbitrary powers protect the interests of EC businesses by preventing the likes of Tesco’s shipping half priced Levis, then how about software that comes in across the net? Aha, catch time – Norway had the good sense to avoid the EC – but there is possibly an even better basis to beat the Americans at their own game, since American steel and auto producers have been upset by predatory pricing by Asian steel and auto companies, accusing them of breaking treaties international trade agreements.

And the whining from the semiconductor companies about “predatory” tactics in RAM pricing is a very long running story, which forced the non-US producers to have to do what Uncle Sam told them.

Maybe the current frenzy for national self-destruction in the US will yet encourage the righteous Republicans to let a little more blood to help embarrass the Democratic presidential administration, and place the issue of the bullying of monopoly IT businesses onto the agenda for world trade equality.

If Microsoft are guilty of manipulating markets through monopoly influence in the US, then they are surely also guilty of messing with the IT markets of other countries. And not just messing with commercial issues, Microsoft and Netscape wilfully screwed the entire world of gentlemanly internet standards. Arguably, this ability to manipulate the entire industry is the most serious abuse of monopoly of the lot, when viewed from outside the US.

The issue of standards and internet has become lost as the US IT oligarchy squabbles to declare that “our standard is more significant than their standard”

But what of the product itself..? In their own words…

“Opera sticks to the HTML standard

It is becoming a nightmare for website developers to make their pages 'best viewed' with one of the big browsers. Using Opera, you know exactly that your pages are best viewed with any browser. You will soon use Opera as your standard reference browser to make sure that your pages are open to all, and not just to those with a specific browser. And above all, it saves you valuable time when developing your pages. Beyond that, you also learn how to write proper HTML code, which is invaluable in itself.”

It’s possible that Opera Software would like to become rich and influential enough to be able to act with the imperious indifference of one of the industry’s monopolists, but somehow it doesn’t feel like it. Note from the screen grab that the hotlist supplied with Opera spells “humour” correctly.

I thus propose to use the market distorting influence of this best selling computer publication to demand that all readers of Computer Shopper should buy a copy of Opera for the $35 they ask, and use it exclusively! And in a truly fair trade world, you would be able to claim that $35 back from Microsoft, because you wanted to remove their browser from your computer…