The European Union has come around and forced Microsoft do something about the “browser monopoly”. Microsoft is pulling the IE out of Windows in Europe. Opera complains.
Obviously, Microsoft did this to avoid actively offering competing products on their platform. And I honestly wonder if Opera is really expecting MS to do the marketing for them. But in the end, even if the this move makes a bit more sense than previous ones, not much is going to change in the grand scheme of things.
It’s funny how everybody is speaking about the browser “market” and “vendors” – as if it existed. There is no market for browsers, and never has been, because no one is paying for them. The browser has become a piece of infrastructure, that people expect for free. As infrastructure is important, everyone wants to be a player – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s near impossible to make money on (desktop) browsers. I’d guess that’s even true for Opera – they probably live of their embedded products, for which they can charge.
This basic setup is not going to change, no matter if Microsoft pulls IE from Windows, offers a choice or whatnot. And it means that if you make a browser, you’ll have to put in money that you got from somewhere else. That’s how Microsoft won the first browser war: They could afford to sink shitloads of money in IE, even after the first crappy versions didn’t swim. Netscape just dropped the ball once (but then, did they drop it hard), and they were out. Once the competition was done for, Microsoft ceased development.
Once Firefox rose from the ashes, they gained real market share (in spite of all “monopoly”), because they could offer a superior product once again. Interestingly enough, they also overtook Opera easily.
So from the consumer point of view, things don’t look so grim. Enough competition is around now to keep Microsoft on their toes, and ensure that browser technology continues to develop. Browsers are also pretty standardized by now, preventing a vendor lock-in. As far as I can see, the time for a useful intervention has passed.
Of course Microsoft (and pretty much every other player) would still like to lock us in. But I doubt they’re still playing the browser game – rather they’re already starting to push new technologies (like Silverlight) to that end.