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Opera: Can someone free Korea from IE?

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Opera is quite pleased with the state of the European browser market, now that the EU has ordered Microsoft to give users a fair choice on Windows. But it still bemoans Internet Explorer's ongoing stranglehold in other parts of the world, most notably Korea.

According to Opera chief technology officer Håkon Wium Lie, the company regularly hears from netizens outside the EU calling for Windows browser ballot screens in their parts of the world, and he says that an EU-like antitrust ruling is most needed in Korea. "That's where Microsoft's grip in the strongest," he said today during a press event in Oslo. "It's almost a government requirement to use Internet Explorer."

Famously, Korea has one of the highest broadband penetration rates in the world, and it's a hotbed for computer technology and consumer electronics. But when it comes to the browser, it's rather behind. As Opera co-founder Jon von Tetzchner pointed out to The Reg, Korea spent years designing websites solely for IE and ActiveX.

Microsoft's EU ballot screen - originally pushed out to existing users via Windows Update in March - gives EU citizens a choice of 12 browsers, including IE and Opera. It can be traced to a complaint Opera made to the European Commission in December 2007, claiming that IE was unfairly tied to Windows, and it was Håkon Wium Lie who spearheaded Opera's efforts to provide fair browser distribution in Europe.

Though some internet statistics show Microsoft's influence declining in Korea, Wium Lie said this doesn't reflect the use of IE within corporate intranets.

"Inside the firewalls of companies, there are no measurements taking place," he said. "A lot of people are still using IE in those places. They need our help. The browser ballot screen is not going to help everyone. It is not a silver bullet for everyone, everywhere, all the time. But we think it is a good idea. It has worked in Europe. And it could work somewhere else."

Opera has not formally complained in Korea, and it has no concrete plans to do so. "We had our hands full in Europe. That's a lot of work," Wium Lie said. "Working in Korea would involve a lot of responses as well. We prefer to develop our product. We hope that there are watchdogs out there that can take up the cause without us having to push it actively."

But according to chief exec Lars Boilsen, the company could potentially make complaints in countries outside the EU. "We have no plans make a formal complaint in Korea," he said.

"We think what has happened in Europe is a really good thing. If there's an opportunity to do things outside of Europe where it would not impact our focus on making the best software, we would certainly consider that, but we have no plans as of today."

The Norwegians saw a marked rise in downloads of its Opera desktop browser following the role-out of Microsoft browser screen. In the two weeks following the roll-out of the ballot, Opera saw downloads more than double.

"We actually got [Opera] out to a lot of new users," Boilesen said. "The beauty of the internet is that if you make really good products, you can get distribution – even if your starting point is pretty hopeless. This is kind of the history of Opera. Now, with the Microsoft ballot, we are getting fair distribution." ®

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