An American software developer is forming an unusual alliance with European regulators, aiding their efforts to force Microsoft Corp. to separate its Web browser from its Windows operating system.
The Mozilla Foundation, the Mountain View, Calif., maker of the free Firefox Web browser, received permission from European Union regulators to submit arguments in an antitrust case over Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
The European Commission, which handles antitrust matters for the EU, last week accepted Mozilla's request to submit comments, access case files and participate at an oral hearing, said Jonathan Todd, a spokesman for the commission in Brussels.
The potentially billion-dollar case against Microsoft could add another lengthy chapter to the European Commission's complaints about the American software titan.
Mozilla is the only American organization to succeed in stripping substantial Web browser market share from Microsoft, the world's leading supplier of computer operating systems.
Last month, the European Commission called on Microsoft to "open up" its Windows operating system and allow other Web browsers to get a crack at new Windows users. Microsoft has eight weeks to respond to the EC demand.
The Redmond, Wash., software giant isn't giving interviews about the matter, but in a filing told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that the EC matter could result in fines and other consequences. In 2004, the EC fined Microsoft nearly $1 billion over a Windows Media Player complaint. The fine soared to more than $2 billion in February 2008 when the EC said Microsoft was charging "unreasonable" prices to rivals wanting access to the Windows desktop.
"Microsoft's business practices have fundamentally diminished (in fact, came very close to eliminating) competition, choice and innovation in how people access the Internet," Mozilla Foundation Chairwoman W. Mitchell Baker said in a blog posting Friday.
Ms. Baker, a former legal executive at AOL's Netscape unit, which the Sterling, Va., Internet service provider later shuttered, said Mozilla would offer its "expertise as a resource to the EC as it considers what an effective remedy would entail," although she offered no specific ideas.
"The damage Microsoft has done to competition, innovation, and the pace of the Web development itself is both glaring and ongoing," Ms. Baker wrote.
Microsoft's Internet Explorer was used by 67.5 percent of people who surfed the Internet in January, according to Net Applications, which tracks Web statistics. That compares with a worldwide market share of 21.5 percent for Mozilla's Firefox, 8.3 percent for Apple Inc.'s Safari, 1.1 percent for Google Inc.'s Chrome and 0.7 percent for Opera Software ASA - the Norwegian company that brought the latest complaint to the EU.