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Microsoft and Europe Just Don't Get Along

After settling the long-running IE antitrust mess by compromising on a browser menu, Microsoft and European officials are going at it tooth and nail again. And, as usual, the Eurocrats are the party on the attack.

This time, though, it's just bizarre. And the Euros have way overstepped their bounds. In light of revelations that hackers used a security flaw in IE to attack Google and other firms, the French and German governments -- get this -- officially recommended that users move away from IE and employ some other browser.

Not surprisingly, IE, which is struggling to hold market share worldwide and especially in Europe, has taken a hit as a result, to the advantage of its rivals. For its part, Microsoft says that the only successful attacks thus far have come though IE 6 and that it's working on investigating the hacks. Redmond is also recommending (not surprisingly) that users upgrade to IE 8 -- although exactly how that would help is unclear, given that IE 8 seems to be vulnerable, as well. Check this out from's story (second link from the top) on this incident:

Most versions of IE have the vulnerability. IE 6 Service Pack 1 on Microsoft Windows 2000 SP4 has the bug. Moreover, the flaw exists in IE 6, IE 7 and IE 8 on supported editions of Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, plus Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

Strange, but never mind all that. What the French and German governments have done goes way beyond what their purview should include. It's one thing to warn consumers about a faulty product -- especially if it's one that can cost lives, such as a leaky gas tank on a car, or flammable baby clothes, or an exploding MP3 player or some such. But as far as we know, a hacker attack on a corporate target has never killed anybody. Caused some damage, sure (mainly financial), but not left a trail of casualties in its wake.

Beyond that, pretty much every piece of software in existence is vulnerable to attack somehow, especially browsers and operating systems. Microsoft gets hit more often and more publicly than most other companies because many of its products tend to be ubiquitous around the world. But other browsers have security holes, too. IE isn't the only victim -- or culprit, depending on your perspective. We don't know, though, of any other case of governments warning people this strongly not to use a particular application.

And it's not just a warning, either. This is where what France and Germany are doing really goes over the line. They're actually suggesting that users switch to another browser. That is simply astonishing. Once again, all browsers have vulnerabilities of some sort -- or can, at least. Furthermore, to reiterate what we said earlier, while governments might play a legitimate role in letting citizens know that there's a problem with a particular product (although it still seems overblown in this case), suggesting that people use some competitive product is way out of the range of what governments should be doing.

Just look at what the French site actually says:

Dans l'attente d'un correctif de l'éditeur, Le CERTA recommande l'utilisation d'un navigateur alternatif.

That translates to, "In waiting for a correction from the publisher, CERTA recommends the use of an alternative browser."

Wow. This isn't "be careful" or "watch out for this" or "you should be aware that this is happening." This is "switch products." There's a robust technology press in France and Germany (not to mention here in the U.S.) that serves the purpose of delivering technology news, dispensing warnings about certain products and giving advice about what to do in a particular situation. If (that's fictional -- there isn't one) wants to tell folks to move away from IE, fine -- although, even as Firefox users here at RCPU, we'd still consider it unnecessary advice.

But for the government to tell people to switch products? Legal or not, it's too much. We've said here many times before that the EU's pursuit of Microsoft on antitrust grounds smacks of resentment about a big American company being so powerful across the pond. What France and Germany have done this week sends even stronger signals that Europe just doesn't like Microsoft.

Maybe Microsoft should just pull out of the continent and leave the Europeans to fend for themselves on Linux and and open source server software. For some people (who will surely comment on this entry in some way), that would be utopia. But we're guessing that for most folks, it would be a nightmare.

Do you think governments should tell people which products not to use? Sound off at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on January 20, 2010


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