MS to ship Windows 7 in EU without IE

Written by Tim Smalley

June 12, 2009 // 1:17 p.m.

Tags: #7 #antitrust #browser #case #commission #ec #eu #europe #european #explorer #internet #microsoft #windows

A leaked memo from Microsoft yesterday revealed that the software giant plans to ship a version of Windows 7 sans Internet Explorer in response to antitrust concerns expressed by the European Commission.

"To ensure that Microsoft is in compliance with European law, Microsoft will be releasing a separate version of Windows 7 for distribution in Europe that will not include Windows Internet Explorer," read the memo sent by Microsoft to PC manufacturers.

" Microsoft will offer IE8 separately and free of charge and will make it easy and convenient for PC manufacturers to preinstall IE 8 on Windows 7 machines in Europe if they so choose. PC manufacturers may choose to install an alternative browser instead of IE 8, and has always been the case, they may install multiple browsers if they wish," it continued.

The Commission, however, has since released a statement which said that "consumers should be offered a choice of browser, not that Windows should be supplied without a browser at all," before concluding: "Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less."

What the Commission wants is for Microsoft to ship the OS with a number of browsers installed, giving each a fair chance. Microsoft said in a statement that it wouldn't rule out different options, so this looks like an ongoing process. "Our decision to only offer IE separately from Windows 7 in Europe cannot, of course, preclude the possibility of alternative approaches emerging through Commission processes," said Dave Heiner, Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft. "Other alternatives have been raised in the Commission proceedings, including possible inclusion in Windows 7 of alternative browsers or a 'ballot screen' that would prompt users to choose from a specific set of Web browsers."

Providing it gets European Commission approval, which looks unlikely based on the Commission's preliminary response, Microsoft will ship the browser-less version of Windows 7, to be known as Windows 7 "E", in all EU member states as well as Croatia and Switzerland. What's more, the browser will also be removed from the Europe-only Windows 7 "N" versions which also have Windows Media Player stripped out - the result of another EU antitrust ruling. Microsoft said that it won't be shipping versions of Windows 7 with a browser in the EU and said that it would apply to both OEM and Retail versions.

This is an interesting twist in this particular battle as Microsoft has backtracked from its previous stance in European courts, where it argued that Internet Explorer was an integral part of the operating system and could not easily be removed. According to the memo, this move will only affect Windows 7 as the company said it has no plans at this time to release versions of Windows Vista and Windows XP without a browser. It could be that Microsoft has changed the way the browser integrates with Windows 7, as parts of it were used for the Help files - the rest of the world now has the option to disable Internet Explorer via the Control Panel in Windows 7.

Unfortunately, Microsoft said that, in order to comply with the EU's requirements, it's now impossible to upgrade to the European version of Windows 7 and keep all of your settings, including your browser - you'll have to do a clean install. That may not be a problem for some (and especially bit-tech's readers), but it fundamentally breaks Windows. There's more on this on the blog.

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