Microsoft has taken another step to hedge its Windows bets in case the European Commission lowers the boom on Redmond's browser-bundling practices.
With the current Windows 7 Build (No. 7048) that is circulating among selected testers, Microsoft is making it possible for Internet Explorer 8 to be removed from the Windows operating system, according to the AeroXperience site, and other testers with whom I've spoken.
"Removing" here is somewhat of a loaded -- and perhaps overzealous -- word. Microsoft can easily remove the IE 8 browser from startup. But over the past few years, the company has integrated the guts of IE into the operating system.
As Bryant Zadegan explained on AeroXperience: "This [new IE 8 removal option] only seems to wipe the actual executable running Internet Explorer 8 (iexplore.exe), but given that many of the most vocal proponents of choice were just looking for an option to functionally remove IE8, this might’ve been the only way to do it without killing the rest of Windows."
One Windows tester, who requested anonymity, emphasized that the new "remove IE 8" option was primarily cosmetic. "(The Windows) Explorer and Internet Explorer use a ton of shared libraries because they both perform similar and intertwined actions," so that makes complete removal of IE from Windows near impossible at this point, he said.
The Windows team has been believed to be readying its "Plan B" in order to try to head off a potential derailment of the release of Windows 7 as a result of an ongoing antitrust case levied by Opera Software in the EU. Opera claimed Microsoft's policy of bundling IE with Windows reduced consumer choice. In January, the European Commission (EC) issued a "statement of objections" in the case, indicating to many that it was prepared to find Microsoft guilty and force the Redmond company to take some kind of remedial action in the EU. Last month, Mozilla joined the complaint and Google requested the right to do so.
Interestingly, Opera officials have not asked for Microsoft to be forced to exorcise IE from Windows; instead, Opera execs have said they are advocating Microsoft to be forced to distribute other vendors' browsers alongside IE. But the Windows team seems to be operating under the assumption that the EC could require the company to remove IE from Windows. Microsoft seems to be trying to further componentize Windows 7 so that such a requirement would have less potential negative impact on Windows 7's release schedule.
The Technologizer tech-enthusiast site recently reported that the Windows team is still on track to deliver Windows 7 in the third quarter of this year, but is ready to delay Windows 7's release until January 2010 if the EC requires the company to remove IE from Windows. (Microsoft isn't commenting on either of these dates.)
I asked Microsoft for a statement on the new AeroXP report, as well as the Plan B scenario for Windows 7 in general. Still no word back.
Update (March 5): The Windows team delivered an official no comment. A spokeswoman added the following statement: "Windows 7 is still in development and currently in beta. We have no new information to share regarding any of the product's final features."
Update 2 (March 6): Microsoft has decided it does have information to share, after all. The company posted an acknowledgment of its decision to allow IE 8 to be removed from Windows 7 (an option most testers will see in the next month or so when the Win 7 Release Candidate build is issued) -- but didn't mention the Opera antitrust suit as a reason for the decision.