UPDATE: Marcis has kindly provided a Belorussian translation of this post – НЯМА магчымасці выбіраць браўзар У ПАЎНОЧНАЙ КАРЭІ
As has been in the news this week and mentioned on many Mozilla blogs, the European Commission is working with Microsoft and other browser manufacturers, including Mozilla of course, to launch the web browser ballot in the EC.
To those critics of the browser ballot who would rather the free market be left completely to Adam Smith’s invisible hand, I would present to you the example of South Korea. In short, South Korea is a sad example of a Microsoft monoculture where the course of history and the lack of anti-monopoly oversight have created a nation where every computer user is a Windows user and banking or ecommerce or any secure transaction on the Internet with South Korean entities must be done with Internet Explorer on a Windows OS.
The situation in South Korea has gotten markedly worse since the government, bowing to pressure from the citizens who wanted to use the smart phones that were sold elsewhere in the world, relaxed a rule that previously required a Korea-specific middleware called WIPI, that was never going to be implemented by smart phone makers outside of Korea. Now that the WIPI requirement was gone, manufacturers like RIM and Apple can now sell Blackberries in Korea and iPhones in Korea.
But as I suspected last fall when the iPhone’s official sales in Korea was announced, the browsers in these new smart phones (be it the browser in the iPhone, the Blackberry, or the Android devices that are on sale in Korea) can’t interoperate with the Active-X based security requirements that Korean banks and ecommerce stores require. So it’s not surprising to me at all that the news from Korea since the launch of these smart phones has been universally negative regarding the requirement to use Active-X for secure web transactions in Korea.
Here’s a selection of quotes from 3 recent articles in the Korea Times:
Korea Paying Price for Microsoft Monoculture (09-23-2009)
But the land of ubiquitous broadband, feature-happy “smart” phones and ultra-cool computing devices doubles as a crusty regime where Linux, Firefox, Chrome and Opera users can’t bank or purchase products online, and where Mac users buy Windows CDs to prevent their devices being reduced to fashion items.The bizarre coexistence of advanced hardware and an outdated user environment is a result of the country’s overreliance on the technology of Microsoft, the U.S. software giant that owns the Korean computing experience like a fat kid does a cookie jar.
It is estimated that around 99 percent of Korean computers run on Microsoft’s Windows operating system, and a similar rate of Internet users rely on the company’s Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser to connect to cyberspace.
Mobile Banking Monoculture? 01-10-2010
At the center of the controversy is the [Korean] Financial Supervisory Service’s (FSS) guidelines on the safety of financial services provided on smartphones, which were finalized and announced last week.The new rules can be summarized simply ― all financial transactions on these advanced handsets will be subject to the same security requirements that control online transactions on personal computers.
The problem with this, according to critics, is that the existing legal framework was precisely what allowed Microsoft to establish a virtual monopoly in computer operating systems and Web browsers here, which is now blamed for having computer users stuck with outdated technologies and exposed to larger security risks.
Rigid Regulations Retard Mobile Wallet Era 02-10-2010
In essence, the current law states that all encrypted online communications on computers require the use of electronic signatures based on public-key certificates. And since the fall of Netscape in the early 2000s, Microsoft’s Active-X controls on its Internet Explorer (IE) Web browsers remain as the only plug-in tool to download public-key certificates to computers.
So we can see in Korea today that the lack of choice of web browser (not to mention the lack of choice of computer operating system), indeed the lack of interoperability of Korea’s secure transaction protocol on the web, means that the smart phones of today, that don’t support ActiveX, are useless in Korea for secure transactions. That means if you are an iPhone/Blackberry/Android user in Korea, you cannot bank online with a Korean bank, you cannot trade stocks on the Korean markets, you cannot shop online with a Korean Internet site. You can’t do many of the key things that these smart phones were designed to do.
So when people ask you, “why is the choice of a web browser important?” tell them that in South Korea, people don’t get a choice of what operating system to use or what web browser to use. After you explain to them that a place without choice is South Korea, ask them again if they’d like to not have a choice and why the choice of a web browser is important.
I hope to have better news from South Korea soon. Please watch my blog for updates on this issue and other issues facing Mozilla and the open web in Asia.
In the meantime, please be sure to visit Open To Choice.org where Mozilla’s Chair, Mitchell Baker and Mozilla’s CEO, John Lilly, explain why we at Mozilla believe that the choice of browser is a critical right for all Internet users worldwide.
Here’s a list of things that the Mozilla community is doing and which we encourage everybody to do:
• Comment on the open letter at opentochoice.org;
• Follow @opentochoice on Twitter;
• Write a post on your blog;
• Use your favorite social network to spread the word;
• Write to bloggers that you know, to local media
• Start a thread in technology and OSS related forums and mailing lists about the browser choice screen;
• Offer to localize the open letter (send an email to contact -at- opentochoice.org)
• Are you participating in local events where you can talk about choice? Do a talk, organize a booth, distribute flyers in the welcome pack, put a banner on the event page;
• Become a browser choice screen watcher: did you see the browser choice screen pop-up on your screen? send us an email, post it on your blog, Tweet about it. Give details (country, time of day, choice of browser).