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Opera to challenge e-envoy over UK govt ‘Windows tax’

Deeply techie Norwegian ear-bashing incoming...

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Opera Software, owner of one of the browsers (which is more or less, all of the non-Microsoft ones) currently barred by the British government's prestige "Government Gateway," proposes to take the matter up with the UK's e-envoy, Andrew Pinder. Pinder's office is responsible for the commissioning of the site, gateway.gov.uk, which is intended to be the cornerstone of the Blair government's plan to put 100 per cent of services online by 2005.

Microsoft was hired to do the development last November, it's difficult to get into it in the first place if you're not running IE 5.01 or above, and the certificate-based security system is constructed in such a way that you'll have to use IE if you want to do anything transactional. Naturally, we've already heard from large numbers of UK citizens who don't use Windows or IE, and who're understandably up in arms over the prospect of having to pay a Microsoft tax in order to participate in the forthcoming Blair e-government experience.

Speaking to The Register this afternoon, Opera CTO Hakon Lie proposed to take the matter further, and described the situation as shocking. "The Web is a common good, yet it's being taken over by a private company." Opera's deal with Symbian, anounced earlier today, places it in head to head conflict with Microsoft on wireless platforms, and "we'll fight that battle, because we've got a better product to offer."

Symbian's position currently looks a lot stronger than Microsoft's in the wireless arena, so if that continues and gateway.gov.uk itself didn't change, in a couple of years time we'd have the bizarre situation whereby the majority of British users wouldn't be able to access gateway.gov.uk via wireless because they had the wrong kind of browser. It would seem reasonable to conclude that Opera has a case.

"We see it as our role to protect the Web from monopolies," Lie said. "We want to make sure content put on the Web is readable, and follows standards. I plan to spend the rest of my life on the Web, and I don't want it to be a Microsoft plaza."

So Andrew Pinder will be hearing from Hakon. We hop to be in a position to tell you what he has to say when that happens. ®

Related stories:
MS-built UK 'Government Gateway' locks out non-MS browsers

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