Google wants to help the European Commission prove antitrust charges against Microsoft related to the software giant's dominance of the Web browser market.
The Web search giant, which recently released its Chrome Web browser, announced Tuesday that it is applying to be a "third party" in the European proceedings, which will entitle it to receive access to confidential documents in the case and the ability to voice objections. Sundar Pichai, a Google vice president for product management, explained the company's reasoning in a company blog:
Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users. This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft's dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers. Compare this to the mobile market, where Microsoft cannot tie Internet Explorer to a dominant operating system, and its browser therefore has a much lower usage. The value of competition for users (even in the limited form we see today) is clear: tabbed browsing, faster downloads, private browsing features, and more.
The request follows the EU's recent decision to grant third-party access to Mozilla, the organization behind the popular Firefox browser. Mitchell Baker, Mozilla's chair, voiced concerns similar to Google's--that tying IE to the Windows operating system harms competition for Web browsers and reduces consumer choice.
The Commission, which is the European Union's executive arm, formally put Microsoft on notice in mid-January, objecting to the bundling of the Internet Explorer browser with the Windows operating system. The Commission's decision, which initially stemmed from a complaint filed by rival browser maker Opera, gave Microsoft two months to respond to the allegations, and also opened the case up to third-party involvement.
Microsoft's share of the browser market has been declining steadily during the past year, largely due to Firefox's growing popularity. In January, IE controlled 67.55 percent of global browser market share, a drop of more than 7 percentage points in a year, according to Web metrics company Net Applications. Meanwhile, Firefox gained more than 3 percentage points to 21.53 percent.
Apple's Safari rounds out the top three with 8.29 percent of the browser market. Google's Chrome browser, launched in September 2008, has 1.12 percent of the market, having overtaken Opera in November. Opera's share of the market now stands at 0.7 percent.
This is not the first time Google and Microsoft have locked horns on antitrust issues. In 2006, the search giant expressed concern over Microsoft embedding Web search functionality into its Vista operating system. Microsoft ultimately agreed to make changes to the desktop search feature to head off a further antitrust battle with U.S. regulators.
Google also opposed Microsoft's failed bid to acquire Yahoo, saying it raised "troubling questions."