Michael Gurstein on Sun, 20 Dec 1998 20:14:25 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Microsoft vs. Norwegians (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 18 Dec 1998 17:59:59 -0500
From: Robin Miller <roblimo@primenet.com>
Reply-To: ict-4-led@ccen.uccb.ns.ca
To: ict-4-led@ccen.uccb.ns.ca
Subject: Microsoft vs. Norwegians

Microsoft's Mistake Abroad

(Copyright 1998 by mail to: roblimo@primenet.com Robin Miller.
Originally published in the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 18, 1998. You may
freely redistribute this article online, but only in its entirety and with
appropriate credit.)

Most computer industry observers agree that Microsoft has worked hard to
kill Netscape Corporation's premier product, the Navigator World Wide Web
browser. When Microsoft started giving away its own competing product,
Internet Explorer, Netscape's Navigator sales effectively stopped.

Netscape was forced to give its browser away too, and seek other ways to
make money from its software expertise. So there we were, in 1997, with a
U.S. mega-corporation, and another one that was merely huge, both giving
away World Wide Web browsers around the world.

Meanwhile, in Oslo, Norway, two former telephone company engineers who had
developed their own Web browser, Opera, started having trouble selling it
against American competition that was giving away similar products.

Opera Software has at least as much right to be angry at Microsoft and
Netscape as American steel and auto producers have to be upset by predatory
pricing by Asian steel and auto companies.

Imagine a world in which both Microsoft and Netscape were charging $25 or
$35 or, more likely, $50 for their World Wide Web browsers. Opera's browser
costs $35 US. It has some advantages over Navigator and Explorer, including
the fact that it will run on less powerful, less expensive computers.

If Micrososft and Netscape hadn't started giving away their browsers, Opera
might, by now, have at least as many shiny new high-rise buildings and
highly-paid employees in Norway as Netscape has in California.

At some point, I expect Opera Software and the Norwegian government to sue
Netscape, Microsoft, and the U.S. Government for violating the same treaties
and international trade priciples held so dear by American smokestack

For the European Union, a confedration of 15 European countries, the merits
of such a suit won't matter as much as its political implications.

The Norwegians would not only be able to cast themselves as viictims of U.S.
economis imperialism, but would be able to muster the threat of Europe-wide
economic retaliation against U.S. software producers and, by extension,
other American exporters.

The recent acquisition of Netscape by America Online makes such a suit even
more tempting. Now Opera can claim that is being treated unfairly by not
just one, but two, American companies that hold controlling market positions
in their fields.

The political black eye the U.S. government would get by supporting
Microsoft and AOL/Netscape over Opera in any international forum would
almost certainly force a settlement, possibly one that would put more money
in the hands of Opera's owners than they've earned selling their product
since 1994, when they released the first version of Opera for Internet

An international "dumping" suit against Microsoft and AOL/Netscape by Opera
would have more long-run importance than the current U.S. antitrust suit
against Microsoft. It would be the first international suit over software
products distributed via the Internet.

Even an out-of-court or government-to-government settlement would set
important precedents. More important, it would remind us that, in an
Internet-linked world, the effects of a decision made by a single American
company -- in this case, Microsoft's decision to give away its web browser
for free -- can be felt all over the world, not just within our own borders.

Robin Miller writes daily website reviews at
http://www.techsightings.com, a weekly column called Cheap Computing at
http://www.andovernews.com, and is an irregular op-ed contributor to several
major newspapers.
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