Google yesterday sought permission from the European Commission to be a party in EC's antitrust investigations against software giant Microsoft.
''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,'' said Sundar Pichai, who is responsible for the development of Google's own Chrome browser.
Regulators have been investigating Microsoft for more than a year, following a complaint by the makers of the Norwegian web browser Opera, and another from the industry group, European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), which accused Microsoft of unfairly obstructing the ability of rival applications to work on its operating systems.
They say the practice of bundling Internet Explorer with Windows put competitors at an unfair disadvantage.
Google's move to join Opera in confronting the software giant's dominance of the internet browser market represents a significant escalation in 'browser wars' and the battle over how users view the internet.
The charges are similar to those Microsoft faced in 2004, when it lost a European anti-trust case and was forced to sell a version of Windows without its Media Player software. Microsoft was hit by a fine of 497 million euros ($688.84 million) in September last year after Europe's second-highest court dismissed the company's appeal against an EU antitrust decision, taken in 2004.
In their preliminary findings, the regulators concluded that Microsoft is involved in anti-competitive behavior, and had indeed given its Web browser an unfair advantage that has been in violation of European law since 1996.
"The Commission is concerned that through the tying, Microsoft shields Internet Explorer from head-to-head competition with other browsers, which is detrimental to the pace of product innovation and to the quality of products which consumers ultimately obtain," it said.
Microsoft pledged in October to give third party program developers access to information that will allow them to make systems interoperable with Windows. It also said it would substantially cut the fees it charges for such data.
Microsoft has until late March to respond, which could force the US software maker to detach Internet Explorer from Windows.
Earlier this month, Mozilla's Mitchell Baker, whose firm distributes the Firefox browser, said, "Microsoft's business practices have fundamentally diminished - in fact, came very close to eliminating - competition, choice and innovation in how people access the internet."
Analysts said that Microsoft eventually defeated Netscape Navigator in the first browser wars during the late 1990s primarily because Internet Explorer came installed on computers that operated the Windows operating system, and as a result became the default choice for most web users.
Microsoft's vision on Gazelle
Microsoft Research has laid out its vision of a prototype browser called Gazelle that includes operating-system features to make it more secure.
Microsoft envisages a browser kernel that acts as a 'multi-principal' operating system capable of dividing website elements, such as web pages and plugins, into their own protected processes for greater security against cross-site attacks.
It's a similar approach to that taken by Google's six-month old Chrome; however, instead of simply dividing individual web pages into their own processes, Gazelle also separates subdomains and lumps the plugins from all opened sites into their own secured sinbin.
"Just as in desktop applications where instances of an application are run in separate processes for failure containment, we run instances of principals in separate protection domains for the same purpose," Microsoft said.
Meanwhile, Google is considering pre-installing its Chrome browser on personal computers in the search giant's latest challenge to the dominance of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
''We will probably do distribution deals,'' he said, adding, ''we could work with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and have them ship computers with Chrome pre-installed.''
He added that versions of Chrome should also be available of computers using Macintosh or Linux software in the first half of next year, allowing the browser to be used on almost 99 per cent of computers worldwide.
Google recently renewed a deal with Mozilla making its search engine the homepage and search bar default until 2011. In return, Google pays Mozilla royalties for Google ad clicks that come from searches originating in the Firefox browser.
According to the internet statistics specialist Net Applications, Internet Explorer was used by 68 per cent of web users worldwide in January. This compared with a 22 per cent market share for Mozilla's Firefox , 8.3 per cent for Apple's Safari, 1.1 per cent for Google's Chrome, and 0.7 per cent for Opera.