Anyone who thinks the Evil Empire has lost its dastardly edge should take a hard look at Microsoft's plans for Windows 7 E.
If Microsoft has its way, the Internet-Explorer-less Windows 7 E version is going to be the one and only version of Windows 7 that will be sold in the European Union. There won't be a version of Windows 7 with IE 8 included sold in the European Union (unless an OEM decides to add it on its PC).
With Windows 7 E, the way Microsoft is envisioning it, the "guts" of IE 8 will still be in there -- things like the rendering engine, the HTTP stack and so on. But there will be no user browser functionality in it at all. No IE 8. No Firefox, no Chrome, no Opera. It will be up to PC makers to preload a browser with Windows 7, if they decide to do so, or up to users to go through some convoluted process to download a browser from a PC with no apparent way to connect to the Web.
Microsoft history buffs may recall that Microsoft built a substantial case (complete with a controversial video) back in the late 1990s around its claim that Internet Explorer was part of Windows. It was so inextricably integrated that to remove it would make the entire operating system inoperable, the Redmondians railed. What a difference a decade makes. In 2009, the idea for Windows 7 E, via which Microsoft magically decouples IE from Windows, is hatched.
Historical inconsistencies aside, Windows 7 E is a total win for Microsoft -- and a total loss for customers.
Think about it. Many EU consumers are going to be very unhappy, and probably vocally so, about getting a crippled version of Windows 7. Some will likely complain to their local politicians about the European Commission (EC). Microsoft officials will continue to insist they are simply trying to be EU-law-abiding monopolists, and that their hands are tied. At the same time, Microsoft will likely be able to collect additional dollars by offering IE 8 to PC makers for license. Sure, Microsoft will have to compete with Mozilla, Google, Apple and Opera for browser-preload contracts, but it will undoubtedly win some of them. Ca-ching!
Thinking it through, I'd say Microsoft's plan for Windows 7 E is a stroke of genius for the company. In one fell swoop, Microsoft creates anti-EC sentiments; makes itself look like the law-abiding underdog; thwarts the "ballot screen" plan the EC seemed to be favoring, which would put IE on a level playing field with its competitors' browsers; and possibly earns a few extra bucks via OEM browser-licensing deals. [poll ID = 33]
Other write-in opinions welcome.
Update: Here is Microsoft's official statement on its Windows 7 E proposal, courtesy of David Heiner, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel. He attributes Microsoft's decision to push Windows 7 E as wanting to insure it could launch Windows 7 on time, in all geographies. He also made it plain Microsoft sure doesn't like the "ballot screen" remedy:
"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. 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. Important details of these approaches would need to be worked out in coordination with the Commission, since they would have a significant impact on computer manufacturers and Web browser vendors, whose interests may differ. Given the complexity and competing interests, we don’t believe it would be best for us to adopt such an approach unilaterally."