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Interview with Opera's CEO, CTO and General Counsel - Updated
Thursday, December 20 2007 @ 12:05 PM EST

And here's Sean Daly's second interview regarding the Opera Software complaint to the EU Commission that I promised, the companion to the previous article's interview with ECIS's Thomas Vinje. If you read them together, you'll have a complete pciture.

This interview is with Opera's CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner, Jason A. Hoida, Deputy General Counsel, and CTO, Håkon Wium Lie. I have yet to see a media report that gets all the story right, so let's let them speak for themselves in their own words: why file a complaint now, what is it about, what remedies are being sought, which standards are involved, and how does failure to implement standards affect the public, and much more. Here's the audio as Ogg.

Update: FSFE has sent word to the EU Commission that it supports Opera's complaint:

"Microsoft should be required openly, fully and faithfully to implement free and open industry standards," is the message of a letter by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) to European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. To help achieve this goal, FSFE offered its support for a possible antitrust investigation based on the complaint of Opera Software against Microsoft. The complaint was based on anti-competitive behaviour in the web browser market.

You can read the entire letter here [pdf].


Opera's CEO Jon von Tetzchner Speaks On The EC Microsoft Complaint,
Interview by Sean Daly, December 19, 2007

Q: This is Sean Daly reporting for Groklaw. I'm seated here today with three people from Opera Software, from Norway. Perhaps you can introduce yourselves?

Jon von Tetzchner: This is Jon von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera.

Håkon Wium Lie: I'm Håkon Wium Lie, I'm the CTO of Opera.

Jason Hoida: And I'm Jason Hoida, I'm deputy general counsel at Opera.


Q: OK, I'll be asking most of my questions to Mr. von Tetzchner and you two others, you can jump right in if you feel you have something to communicate. First question: why now? Why now, why in Brussels, to lodge a complaint? Is this a result of the Court of First Instance decision, or is this something you've been planning for a long time?

Jon von Tetzchner: It's clearly something that's been in the back of our mind. But the decisive moment obviously comes when we see a decision being made that actually affects this case.


Q: And if I understand correctly, the goal of your complaint is not monetary, it's standards compliance?

Jon von Tetzchner: Yes.

Q: Now, when we say standards, I imagine that the complaint is explicit about which standards? Would that be CSS, the Document Object Model, XHTML, Javascript? What's in the complaint?

Jon von Tetzchner: Well, to a certain extent, I mean, we do believe standards will continue to evolve, but I believe the important thing here is that there is a set of standards that everyone knows comprises the Web, standards which Microsoft and the rest of us have been involved in actually writing, and we would just like them to implement and follow the standards they have been working with us in defining.


Q: Now, are these standards that are worked on with the W3C?

Jon von Tetzchner: In general, most of the standards are through the W3C. I guess ECMAscript is the exception?

Håkon Wium Lie: ECMAscript is outside. I think the ones we mentioned in the complaint though, they are DOM, CSS, and XHTML. Those are the three examples that we specifically call out.

Jon von Tetzchner: I think it's general, I mean, that the standards that the Web uses, we should agree on those standards and work towards making -- I mean, the point of interoperability is that the different browsers show the different content in the same way, the reason for the different companies to engage in the standards process is to make sure that that happens. We believe that every company should, at their best, try to get those standards working in the same way.


Q: All right. It's generally acknowledged that after the long paralysis of Internet Explorer version 6, there has been some progress for standards compliance in IE7 and perhaps there will be even more in IE8. Do you think this complaint is the best way to encourage Microsoft to make progress in standards compliance?

Jon von Tetzchner: We think that yes, this is going to help that process, otherwise we wouldn't have done it. We believe that putting extra focus on the importance of standards -- now, Microsoft did some work with IE7. We wish they had done more. I think a lot of us had wished that they did more. They did some things, and we applaud every move that they make in the direction of standards, but we would like to see more happening and more quickly. And if Microsoft tell us that IE8 is going to be more compliant with web standards, we would be the first ones to applaud that.


Q: Now, Microsoft has claimed in the past that IE is an integral part of the Windows operating system. If I'm not mistaken, I believe that there are hooks, there are some OS functions within Windows for HTML rendering which require IE. We saw how many years it took for Microsoft to update their operating system, do you think that they are able to unbundle IE from Windows at this point?

Jon von Tetzchner: I think technically speaking, they're quite able to do that.


Q: All right. Now, recently, by that I mean in the past two or three years, we've seen the arrival of the Firefox browser which has made gains in market share, visibly against IE. How would you explain the market share gains by Firefox, but not Opera for the desktop in that market?

Jon von Tetzchner: Well, I think, I mean, Opera has made progress as well, but clearly, Firefox has made a lot of progress and they've done great work with getting their message out and communicating. And through this, they have against all odds really managed to get a very significant market share. But even with the hard efforts that they've been having, they've -- it's become a little bit slower, and I don't think it's that the quality of their products has become any worse, so I believe that there is a risk that they've reached a plateau and I think if people were given a free choice of browsers, a lot more people would be choosing Firefox and a lot more people would be choosing Opera.


Q: Andy Clarke, who is a member of the W3C's CSS Working Group, has called for structural changes at the W3C as a result of your complaint. He thinks that cooperation between Microsoft, Opera, Apple, Mozilla will be damaged, and that the role of browser developers in standards-setting should be minimized. How would you respond to that?

Håkon Wium Lie: I can comment on that if you want. I've been in the CSS Working Group since it was started around '90-something. I don't think this case will make any difference in our technical collaboration with Apple or Microsoft, we've been working quite well together in the CSS Working Group and I think we will continue to do so. Certainly, I have good personal relationships with the Microsoft representatives. We have fun together, we tease each other a little bit sometimes, but they have a sense of humor so it all goes very well. I think there could be other reasons for perhaps, you know, making working groups more open, but that's across the board, that's not specific to CSS.


Q: All right. Some might argue that standards represent "last year's Web", and that innovation in Web experiences come from plowing ahead irrespective of standards. In this view, standards are merely the formalization of innovations that have been adopted by the market. What is your point of view on that subject?

Jon von Tetzchner: I think in a way if you look at the amount of innovation that's coming from the market leader in browsers, there is a little point there. I mean, it's not like Microsoft was being held back by standards during the last 5 or 6 years. So we believe that standards are important for interoperability. I believe that if the different players engage in working together in writing new standards, we are already seeing that by the way now happening, that the different parties are engaging in standards. I don't think the standards should be holding anyone back. There's plenty of room to innovate on top, with the user interface, and obviously there's the quality of the implementation. So there's significant opportunity to differentiate on the merits of your product without having to say that you have to own the standard. It's clearly to the benefit of everyone, consumers in particular, that there is competition in this space, and that it's not the case of a single monopolistic player controlling the playing field, controlling the standards.

Håkon Wium Lie: If I could add something there, I think there's also plenty of innovation in the parts of the standards that haven't been implemented. Things that can't be used on the Web today because IE doesn't support it. Things like CSS tables for example, which would make it so much easier to do good layout for the Web. But it can't be used, because it's not implemented. If those standards had been implemented, we would have seen the fruits of innovatiuon much stronger across all browsers.


Q: It could be argued that this is a problem at its core of website owners, the clients of website developers. For example, their first goal when they sit down with a web agency that does development is to say: "We want to reach the maximum number of people, and let's start with what works best on the major dominant platform. And standards are not important. What is important, even if you have to code three or four different versions of the site, is to reach the maximum number of persons." How do you think it could be possible to change the mindset of website owners so that standards-compliant websites could become a goal?

Jon von Tetzchner: I think, in a way, if you have interoperability between the different browsers, if all the browser vendors are supporting the same standards, it becomes a very easy decision for the site owners to actually support the standards and focus on the standards in the design. When that's not the case, when the different browser vendors do not follow the standards -- whereas in this case, Microsoft does not follow the standards and they are the leading player, the site owners are left with a choice as to how to do their task. Now, some of them will do it the way we believe it should be done, which is you start with the standards and then you do changes to adhere to IE's quirks. But others, as you say, they will start with IE because it's the most-used browser, and they will try to make that work with other browsers, which is a much harder job. And a number of them fail in doing so, or do not take on the task.


Q: All right. Now, is this complaint more about the desktop space, or the cellphone space? I know that you're very strong in the cellphone area. Are you protecting your existing cellphone market, or are you trying to right a wrong on the desktop market?

Jon von Tetzchner: This is more a focus on the desktop. But I think that it's all related to the Web. The way we see it, the Web is going everywhere. And making sure that you can actually make content, and make it work across different devices, we believe is very important. We believe the Web is very important. It is something that is changing the world as we know it, and we believe it's in a positive way. Giving equal access to information. And you should be able to access that independent of machine, operating system, or different devices. And the only way to get there, really, is to agree on the standards support and have all the different players do that. Most players are in line with that; we need to get Microsoft in line with that. And as soon as they are, I think things will move in the right direction.


Q: All right, one final question. What, for you, would be the best outcome of this complaint?

Jon von Tetzchner: Well, I think the best thing is that we see the result we requested. That Microsoft goes and supports the standards fully, works actively with the community, competes aggressively on the merits of their products, giving consumer choice in the market, that we redress the balance in the desktop browser space. Maybe the easiest way for that to happen is to rather offer a choice of browsers in the operating system. There may be an easier way to do it. But obviously, we'll be discussing potential solutions when the decision has been made on the case.


Q: All right, Jon, Håkon, Jason, thank you very much for taking time to sit down with me today.

Jon von Tetzchner: Thank you.

Håkon Wium Lie: Thanks.

Jason Hoida: Thanks.

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