Microsoft proposes launching an IE-free Windows 7 'E' in Europe

Microsoft is stepping up its campaign to try to appease European Commission (EC) regulators who are mulling possible remedies in the ongoing Opera-Microsoft browser-bundling case in the European Union.According to News.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is stepping up its campaign to try to appease European Commission (EC) regulators who are mulling possible remedies in the ongoing Opera-Microsoft browser-bundling case in the European Union.

According to News.com, Microsoft's newest proposal is to offer a version of Windows 7 which strips out Internet Explorer (IE) 8. Not hides it -- like is currently possible via a "remove features" capability. The Softies are proposing to sell a separate version, designated Windows 7 E which doesn't include a browser in it at all.

Sources close to Microsoft confirmed that Microsoft has been notifying PC makers of its intention to field Windows 7 E in the European Union as a way to comply with antitrust regulations there.

Microsoft added the "Remove IE" switch to Windows 7 a few months ago. IE was just one of a number of "removable" features in the Release Candidate build of Windows 7, which Microsoft made available to testers in late April. The full list of user-removable Windows 7 features (in addition to ones that already may be "deselected" in Vista) include:

  • Windows Media Player
  • Windows Media Center
  • Windows DVD Maker
  • Internet Explorer 8
  • Windows Search
  • Handwriting Recognition (through the Tablet PC Components option)
  • Windows Gadget Platform
  • Fax and Scan
  • XPS Viewer and Services (including the Virtual Print Driver)

Turning off these features didn't actually permanently remove them from the operating system. As Microsoft officials acknowledged in a blog posting in March:

“If a feature is deselected, it is not available for use. This means the files (binaries and data) are not loaded by the operating system (for security-conscious customers) and not available to users on the computer. These same files are staged so that the features can easily be added back to the running OS without additional media. This staging is important feedback we have received from customers who definitely do not like to dig up the installation DVD.”

But the Windows 7 E release allegedly would do more than just hide IE 8. It would require users and OEMs who wanted IE to install it separately.

As News.com explains:

"For computer makers that want it, Microsoft will offer a free "IE 8 pack" that allows them to add the browser back in. It's a little more complicated for consumers that buy a retail copy of Windows 7. Because the operating system lacks a browser, there's not direct way to go to Microsoft's Web site to download one. Microsoft plans to make it as easy as possible for folks in Europe to get the browser, though and plans to offer it via CD, FTP and through retail channels, according to a person a familiar with the situation."

Microsoft won't offer both IE-8-free and an IE-8-bundled versions of Windows 7 in the EU, according to the leaked memo. Microsoft does provide both the Media-Player-bundled and Media-Player-free (Windows XP and Windows Vista N) versions of Windows in the EU. Microsoft also isn't offering to strip IE out of older versions of Windows, like XP and Vista, as part of this alternative.

Earlier this week, word leaked that the EC regulators were seeking input from PC makers about a possible "ballot screen" remedy, via which users would be offered a choice of IE and competing browsers on new Windows PCs. The EC allegedly has been seeking a remedy in the Opera case which would provide Microsoft's competitors with some kind of Microsoft-provided distribution vehicle for either their actual browser bits or links to their browser download sites in order to level the browser playing field.

I doubt this new alternative is going to appease the EU regulators, as it simply punishes consumers. If you thought no one wanted Windows Vista N, I predict the demand for Windows 7 E will be just as bad, if not worse. What's your take? Is offering a Windows 7 E a lame proposal?

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