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September 17, 2009

On Browsers and Operating Systems

An interesting excerpt from "The Microsoft case: antitrust, high technology, and consumer welfare" by William Hepburn Page and John E. Lopatka, especially if you read it in light of Google's announcement that it will release a browser-centric operating system:
First, [Microsoft] included IE with Windows and required OEMs not to delete it. Second, it designed IE and Windows in such a way that it was difficult for anyone, OEMs or end users to delete it. The legality of Microsoft's contractual and technological linking of the browser and the operating system arose first in the interpretation of the 1995 consent decree and then in the 1998 case in the application of sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act. The issue in the consent decree case was whether the browser and the operating system were integrated, and therefore specifically exempt from the decree's anti-tying provisions. The Sherman Act section I issue was whether the browser was illegally tied to Windows, either contractually or by design. The Sherman Act section 2 issue was whether the technological and contractual linking of the browser and the operating system constituted illegal maintenance of a monopoly in operating systems. (...)

In his findings of fact, Judge Jackson treated Microsoft's contractual and technological bundling of IE and Windows as a single strategy to constrict the OEM channel. He first found that browsers are separate from operating systems. Consumers think of the browser as simply software that allows them to gain access to information on the Web. Some consumers want the browser provided separately from the operating system, either because they want a browser other than IE or because they do not use a browser and do not want one taking up space on the hard drive. Other operating system producers bundle a browser with their operating systems but they allow OEMs and users to delete it. Microsoft prohibits deletion even though it offers different versions of its browser separately for non-Windows operating systems.

Instead of integrating its own browser in Chrome OS, Google will build the operating system as an extension of the browser. In less than 10 years, browsers have evolved from being one of the many applications that can be installed on a computer to being an essential application that could even be used to replace a traditional operating system.


  1. Interesting, I suppose... but not entirely relevant.

    Microsoft, and only Microsoft, was under the decree that they cannot use their operating system monopoly to give them an unfair advantage over other competing products.

    With ChromeOS, Google is only doing what Microsoft claimed to do... but they started with an OS, turned it into a monopoly, then tried to stuff the browser into it. With Google, it's starting with the browser and expanding it into an operating system.

    This was the natural course of things... Microsoft just took the wrong approach and got punished for it.

  2. Tell me, does Chrome actually execute a copy command to copy a file from one place to another? How much of an operating system is Chrome really?

    If I can install Chrome on a blank hard disk and the device boots up to Chrome, then it's an operating system. Otherwise, isn't it an application which emulates some (but not all) functions of an OS?

  3. The question on if Chrome OS could have an anti-trust suit would be to answer these questions: Would users be able to use other browsers such as IE on it? Does the OS sit on top of a base system such as Linux and therefore is just a GUI? Would devices running Chrome OS be basically 'dumb' devices able to tap into something that is already there or broadcasting from a source (such as GPS receivers)?

  4. Chrome OS is essentially a marketing name, to let you focus on browser rather than OS or computer. No one would require running IE or Firefox on Chrome OS, which runs on XXX OS kennel.

  5. as long as I can uninstall Chrome browser and install IE browser

  6. Omnius, why bollux up a innovative OS with a old-fashioned, problem-ridden browser ?...

  7. The use of the term "operating system" here seems quite a stretch. The windowing system and UI platform would be replaced by code that used to be the core of a browser application. There has been a long tradition of kitchen-sink-included main applications this is just a new one. The OS here still includes a Linux kernel, along with an essential suite of native libraries and perhaps supporting service binaries that together form. All the essential pieces together form the OS not just a UI platform. We don't say the Cocoa, Mojo, Android UI, or .Net is the OS either.

  8. Whether the browser was the base starting point or the the end result is moot. The problem here is that you're stuck with Chrome which makes it a monopolising state for anyone who chooses Chrome OS. The browser is a separate piece of software & the OS needs to be able to de-select the base browser & select another. IE is not an option for anyone with more than half a brain but for the idiots who want to run it, go ahead & make a secure base proposition into something of a calamitous exercise in stupidity. What M$ did in the past should be the foundation of the end of crippling software innovation. The likes of M$ should never again get the chance to use FUD by way of litigation threats. Their type of behaviour should be crushed as soon as it starts.

  9. I think I find that this Chrome OS is based on Linux yet there is no Chrome for Linux available unless you take on Chrome OS. That's fairly monopolising in of itself. Now I'm a fan of Google, much more so than I am of M$ (actually not a fan at all of the evil monopoliser, that was a poor attempt at a joke) but I don't like the way Google are going about this at all. Doesn't matter though because other than a possible Android phone later on, I doubt that I'll ever give up the suite of Linux software that I use currently.

  10. I think people are talking across use cases here. Chrome OS sounds to be like WebOs for netbook size devices. Chrome OS clearly does not promise anything other than a way to run Chrome. MS presented their product as general purpose infrastructure and therefore had some responsibility for inclusion. I think if MS provided the IE platform library/renderer which was coupled and allowed users to hide/remove the IE application there position would have been strong enough to resist the antitrust actions.

  11. I agree with Omnius. To keep everyone from complaining, all operating systems should not come with any browsers or media players. Now, after purchasing a new do I get to the internet to download what I want? Oh yeah, you can't.

    If you uninstall Chrome from Google's OS, it will probably break like Windows would since it is so integrated into their OS.

    To, speaking of MS going the wrong direction, how was MS suppose to make a browser first when PCs were not what they were today before the DOS OS? Talk about the blind leading the blind; get your facts straight.

    So many people cheer the underdog's success, but scream for the down fall of giants. Google has it's protestors as well (excluding myself). And you will most certainly crucify your Google someday just like others in your life. Chill out and enjoy where technology is going.

  12. kids, we are talking about 21st century OS. Chrome will not have to worry about copying files, for example, because they will be in the cloud, just like Google Docs. and if you want to copy or email them to somebody, you just share your Google Doc url (read-only or not).

    second thing: for those who believe your OS *must* come with a browser, otherwise we couldn't download other things, you could picture the situation like this:

    1. there are home users, who know nothing about computers (and those will not care about which browser they are using, simply because they don't know what is a browser);

    2. there are company users, that must follow the internal policies, and will receive a machine configured by the infra-structure people (and so they will not be able to change anything)

    3. and there are power users, like the infra-structure people, OEM people, and geek people, who may choose changing the browser, due to security restrictions, performance issues, development needs, etc. only this last small group will really worry about changing the browser. and guess what? it would be enough for these people tools like linux yum / yast installers, or like python eggs or ruby gems, all that know how to download and install themselves.

    so... if you don't care, buy an OS with a browser. if you care, but a decent OS that knows how to download / install new stuff. simple.

    I don't believe Google OS will monopolize the net as Windows did with desktops, because Google OS will just be an enabler to the machine to connect to the net. everything else will happen online, on the cloud. the desktop machine, or the netbook, or whatever gadget that run Google OS, will be a thin client again, like a dumb terminal.

    this is what I believe that "the cloud" is here for. to move the things to the net. I don't see a gaming desktop running the Google OS. Google don't care about video drivers, cpu and video and memory overclocks, nothing. Google will let this specific market for Windows, and videogames (note that there is no gaming PC running linux. same reason).

    I believe that a "cloud 2" in 10 or 15 years may care about 3d accelerated games, and about sharing peer cpu time, for example. but not now. we are in the step of enabling things. next, we must first put the world online, and only then we explore it.

  13. I think I found internet Explorer is the best for Windows Operating system It provide the best web browsing facilities in the IE 8.0.
    Thank you for providing the information...

  14. heavyweights like photoshop and premiere will always need a desktop to run to full potential, altho native x86 code in chrome could change that too in the not too distant future

  15. To everyone who's comparing ChromeOS to Microsoft + IE and complaining about a "monopoly" style situation.... you're forgetting that ChromeOS is FREE. There's no monopoly because there's no money involved. What are you gonna do? Demand a refund? *sigh*

    To the rest of y'all:

    Don't confuse ChromeOS with Chrome the browser. They're two separate concepts... closely intertwined, but they're not the same thing. ChromeOS is a nifty *nix style kernel with a brand new browser centric GUI slapped on top of it. It's not intended for full regular desktop usage (yet) -- it's designed for web-centric usage, where you're always online and everything is "in the cloud". Think netbook, not quad core gaming rig.

    Chrome the browser is a standalone application which makes use of existing OS APIs.

  16. Ever wanted to know why there were no problem with the calculator included in M$ OSes. Is there anything different between browser and a calc.
    When I buy an Apple MAc, I expect to have a browser, idem for Windows. I also expect to have a calc in linux.

    Now I can install another browser in windows if I wish. The choice is large more than it is in linux for exemple. I can even make it the default one.

    But I cannot uninstall IE ... This is not a problem if I do not use it. I bought it finally..