Microsoft’s Removal of IE from Windows 7 Will Have No Effect

By Craig Buckler
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Removing IEMicrosoft will ship European versions of Windows 7 without Internet Explorer when the new OS is launched in October. The decision was made following the European Union’s anti-trust investigation. In an on-going legal case instigated by Opera, the EU’s preliminary statement concluded that Microsoft’s bundling of the browser with Windows violates European competition laws.

According to a leaked communication from the company:

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.

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.

Two flavors of each Windows 7 (Home, Pro, Ultimate, etc.) will be available in EU territories:

  • Windows 7 E: the release without Internet Explorer, and
  • Windows 7 N: the release without IE and Windows Media Player.

There are several reasons why this is a clever move by the software giant:

1. Microsoft are complying with EU law
Windows 7 E/N will have no default browser so Microsoft appears to be committed to upholding competition laws. I’m no legal expert, but I’m sure the EU will have a tough time proceeding with the anti-trust case.

2. IE is still available in XP and Vista
XP and Vista users already have IE installed — will upgrading to Windows 7 remove the browser? It seems unlikely and nor would anyone want that to happen.

3. IE is only hidden
Windows depends on browser components for several core services so, although IE can be uninstalled in Windows 7, it only affects the OS at a superficial level.

Windows 7 E/N is likely to provide IE in an ‘uninstalled’ state. What would you do following a clean installation of the OS? Hunt around for browser installers or quickly re-enable IE and download what you need?

4. OEMs will still choose IE
Microsoft has made it clear that PC manufacturers can offer an alternative or a choice of browsers. How many OEMs will do that?

  • A browser choice screen requires a custom application and up-to-date installers. Developing and maintaining that software will have a direct cost to the manufacturer.
  • Alternatively, assume that an OEM offered a different browser. Would novices be confused by the absence of the blue ‘e’ icon and complain that their new PC is not Internet-enabled?

Anyone who uses Firefox, Opera, Safari, or Chrome already downloads and maintains their browser of choice so a default IE installation is unlikely confuse them. That is not necessarily true for IE users. Providing an alternative browser will increase the OEM’s support costs and they cannot pass people directly to the Microsoft helpline.

5. Microsoft will not need to promote other browsers
The EU and Opera’s preferred solution is a ‘choose a browser’ screen shown during Windows installation and possibly within the Control Panel. That would have been a logistical nightmare for Microsoft and I’m sure vendors would still have complained their browser was shown less prominently than others.

The solution also required Microsoft to publicise other browsers. One of the reasons IE’s market share remains high is because users are not aware of alternatives or are unable to install them.

Microsoft’s decision to remove Internet Explorer from the European version of Windows 7 will have an negligible effect on the browser’s market share. That may not be the outcome Opera or the EU wanted, but I suspect the anti-trust battle is at least 10 years too late.

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  • secoif

    What about OSX & Safari? How the hell do you easily access the internet to download the browser you want, without a web browser?

  • @secoif
    That’s why the MS solution is so clever. It forces OEMs to choose a browser, takes the decision out of Microsoft’s hands, and thwarts any legal comeback. OEMs will still choose IE because it’s the easiest and cheapest option.

    You would have thought the same laws would apply to OSX and Safari or indeed Ubuntu and Firefox. However, I suspect the EU will not regard them as having a monopolistic control over the OS market so their influence is minor.

  • IE8 is still a recommended update yes? so as soon as update runs after someone clicks “keep my computer safe, install recommended updates” on the first boot. surely it’ll be installed…

  • I don’t think that’s the case. IE8 components will still be available in Windows 7 and may receive updates, but the shortcuts to the browser and possibly iexplore.exe will disappear. IE would not be registered as a handler for web protocols or HTML files.

    However, once IE9 is available, I suppose MS could issue a recommended update. Since the user can opt-in or out, the browser could be reinstated. I should have made that point 6!

  • @SoreGums The rendering engine will still be on the system so that might receive some updates but the iexplorer.exe file will not be on there so that can’t be updated. And the IE8 update requires the user to confirm it the same way IE7 did, even if it’s a recommended update.

    Personally I think that Microsoft are well within their rights to include their browser in their own operating system. They’ve done that hard work of building the OS so why should they not be able to include all the utility apps that come with it? If we apply the logic that Microsoft cannot bundle apps that other people are making with it why can they will include Notepad? I know that’s a bit of a silly example but in the end a browser is just a piece of the OS, so why shouldn’t it be included with it? Anyone who wants to use a different browser will just ignore it anyway (it’s even better now because we can actually uninstall it). Firefox has managed to gt 40% market share (or near abouts) in Europe even with all machines coming with IE installed. Personally I think Opera are kicking up a fuss over nothing (and I’m an Opera user so it isn’t because I hate the Opera browser, I love it).

    All this move will do is hurt users that buy retail copies of Windows 7 (which I plan to do when it comes out).

  • wwb_99

    @Craig: on updates, I suspect we’ll see a model like office or SQL. If you have either of those packages installed, you get recommended updates via MS update. If you don’t you never see ’em.

  • So will Linux come with no browsers packaged? Will Macs come with no browser? Will Macs come minus all the other nice software that is normally included?

    Or is this a one sided attack by a browser manufacturer who has never cracked the Windows market?

    (posted using firefox)

  • Pete

    I think that this is pathetic. For the average user internet explorer adds value to the microsoft operating systems, and especially during these hard financial times people need to feel that they are getting value for money.
    Even though they will be offering IE as a free download, no doubt it’s going to cause confusion and awkwardness. I’m sure it do the companies image much good, considering that most people, no matter how lacking in knowledge, allready hate microsoft for no reason at all.

  • So will Linux come with no browsers packaged? Will Macs come with no browser? Will Macs come minus all the other nice software that is normally included?

    That’s what I thought as well. It’s amazing how it can be one rule for one and a different rule for everyone else.

    They complain about MS not creating an even playing-field. Well, what does this make it?

  • Largely the same conclusion we came to discussing this in the SitePoint forums. Good for Microsoft for giving it a try. They may have to put up with the European Commission using them as a bank because it’d be absurd to give up the profit from selling to the entire European market, but they shouldn’t have to deal with ridiculous rules like “add a menu of your competitor’s products to your software”.

  • Thomas

    Euro Technology Police…Keystone Cops.

  • Aichi

    So will Linux come with no browsers packaged? Will Macs come with no browser? Will Macs come minus all the other nice software that is normally included?

    It is not about browser in OS. It is about majority in OS market and use this dominancy to be domimant in browser market. That is the point of the suit.

    So OSX or Linux haven’t dominancy in OS market, so they should still bundle one browser. So there are two points. First is, that if you are monopol in one market , you cannot use your dominancy to beat another market of ex. text editors, file browsers, antivirs, … Second is, if your market share is under 50%? you can influence other markets easily :)

  • Andy Jones

    Wow. So many misinformed opinions here.

    First of all, Linux and Mac are not considered monopolies so do not come under the same rules. Also the browsers contained within these OSes CAN BE FULLY REMOVED, unlike IE.

    @ Dan Grossman. The EU Commission are not using Microsoft as a bank. They have plenty of money of their own. What they are doing is punishing or attempting to punish a company who have deliberately abused and harmed a market. Since this website is mainly about programming for the web you should all understand this, what with the atrocious HTML & CSS in IE6 and the amount of extra work this causes you all when trying to write standardised code.

    As for how do people get a web browser or get on the web without a web browser installed, have you ever heard of FTP? A couple of icons on the desktop or on a splash screen can have the users choice of web browser downloaded via FTP to them which they can then install.

    As for the OEM machines, you can guarantee that they will have a web browser installed. It is just a matter of what web browser. One thing you can guarantee though is that if all OEMs choose IE then there will be a further investigation of them and Microsoft as it will seem that Microsoft co-erced or threatened them, as has been proven in the past.

    Just like a lot of forums that contain negative Microsoft prose, I am wondering whether the posts above are just part of the Microsoft campaign to flood the web with FUD to make them look hard done by. The posts above do certainly seem to follow the same tripe that is posted on other forums which attempt to mislead people by distorting the facts, and as this is supposed to be a ‘Tech’ forum I would have thought the EUs stance would be seen as positive.

  • Andy: I think it is you who is misinformed. “deliberately abused and harmed a market”? You really think that? IE6 just suffers from being dated and having a user base unwilling to upgrade. It’s a victim of changing user expectations and a changing market, nothing to do with it being a bad browser in the first place. Sounds like it’s you spreading the FUD here.

    Why should Linux and Macs not have to follow the rules just because they aren’t as popular? MS made a product people clearly wanted, gained a huge user base for doing so, and now are being punished for their success, because a few competitors are whining that their not-as-good products aren’t as popular.

  • Some interesting comments here.

    Opera’s original complaint was that MS were holding back web evolution. That’s largely true. The company abandoned IE6 after winning the first browser war. They saw no future in web apps and wanted everyone to use Windows-based internet-enabled applications (or “smart clients” as MS referred to them).

    MS did not foresee the rise of Web 2.0, Ajax (even though they developed it), Google, and better browsers. In a level playing field, IE would not have its current market share if it were not bundled with Windows. The same cannot really be said for OSX/Safari and Linux/Firefox because they do not have a monopolistic stranglehold.

    In that respect, the EU ruling is correct. MS have unfairly prevented competing browser vendors — but legal action should have been taken many years ago.

    Today, an OS without a browser is unthinkable. For people running web applications, the browser is the OS. The EU would prefer MS to offer a choice of competing browsers, but that will be tough to implement and manage. And where would it stop? Should they offer alternative email clients, virus scanners, file managers, text editors, media players, or Minesweeper clones?

    Removing IE from Windows 7 is the quickest, cheapest, and most commercially astute option for Microsoft. They know OEMs will still install IE even if they do not offer financial incentives. That could still be viewed as an abuse of their market power, but it will be difficult for the EU to prove and resolve.

  • markfiend

    Stormrider: It’s not just Andy who thinks that MS has “deliberately abused and harmed a market”, the EU does too.

    Microsoft’s tying of Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system harms competition between web browsers, undermines product innovation and ultimately reduces consumer choice.

    The point is that MS is abusing its dominant position in the market. Something neither Linux nor Apple are guilty of, as neither actually has a dominant position in the market.

    I agree with Andy, a lot of the posts on this thread sound like MS astroturfing. And if you seriously think that other browsers are “not as good” as IE, you haven’t been paying attention.

  • loganathan

    Is IE8 good?

  • adimauro

    This whole thing is ridiculous. So, if another browser passes 50% share, are they going to be sued, too? This is even more stupid because Firefox 3 has PASSED IE7 in popularity in Europe. While overall, IE is still ahead of Firefox in Europe, the gap is not that big anymore, and Firefox is slowly catching up.

    Is it time to sue Firefox? When will it end?

    Here is the browser data for Europe: Link

  • I think it is a good strategic move for Microsoft.

  • Ross

    Looking at the comments, I can’t believe that Microsoft has been so successful at winning public opinion over. Just the result they are looking for! (don’t be fooled)

  • It does seem to me that the EU decision is rather dated. A few years ago, IE really did dominate in Europe, but these days, Firefox has put an enormous dent in that. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Firefox draw level with IE pretty soon without any heavy-handed intervention.
    Personally, I use Firefox 90% of the time and safari the other 10%, but I don’t think IE needs to be smacked down like this.

  • Angry Free Man

    I’m an almost decade-old Sitepoint reader and this is my first post. I’m frankly sick and tired of people arguing for their own interests to legitimize the shake-down of a company (Microsoft) that for all its flaws and virtues has acquired dominant market share thru constant innovation and extreme marketing savvy. This has been going on for years. You work at Opera? Finally get some marketing books and do something more unusual that will get you noticed. You think your product is superior? Why don’t you follow your wits and learn how to cheaply advertise it? You argue that people are ignorant about other browsers, so why don’t you follow your heart and advertise it more effectively? But no, you take the ‘easy’ route and resort, not to peaceful competition, but to government force. Microsoft will be critized NO MATTER what it does. If it caves in to the rule-by-brute-force crowd, it will only encourage the whiners to get away with more. If it doesn’t, it will be forced to comply with the ‘law’ anyway, no matter how abritrary it is. The internet is about freedom, but apparently when you become successful in this environment, it’s ok for whiners to resort to their primitive instincts and dress them up as ‘consumer protection’ and ‘rule of law’. It is neither. The only thing you accomplish is legitimizing the penalisation in people’s minds of success for being success. Think what it does to an entrepreneur’s aspirations. It’s easier than competing like a real businessman, isn’t it? By the way, I use Firefox. It was very easy to install on Vista so as to make it my default browser.

  • secoif

    I second Angry Free Man.

    On another note, Sitepoint, how about a ‘this comment is good’ button?

  • Anonymous

    they should just stick IE8 on a CD or memory stick and let the user install it

    it’s not like they’re forcing IE8 on the user…

    but seriously though, the anti-MS bullshit has to stop, completely agree with Angry Free Man (also secoif!)

  • sitehatchery

    An automatic update including IE8, made after the purchase, might not necessarily be considered a “bundled” service. The user has to specifically agree to download such software after the purchase, which they could decline at will. So the “bundle” issue could turn into a semantics game, with the outcome being nearly the same.

  • I’ve always thought that the nature of a monopoly was such that there really weren’t any other choices, and so said monopoly could take advantage of their customers. In the case of computer operating systems, this really isn’t the case, because nobody said, “You must buy a computer with Windows on it”.

    I hadn’t really paid attention to the EU anti-trust investigation, and I’m surprised that Opera would have anything to do with it. I have to say, I’ve never really liked Opera, and I think it’s pathetic that they try to punish MS. I’m no MS lover, but I do use Windows, Mac, and Linux daily, and I don’t appreciate attempts to bash any O/S.

    Tonight I was styling a form on my website, and I’m not kidding, Opera was the only browser that didn’t look exactly like the others. I test in IE6, IE7, IE8, FF3, Opera, Chrome, and Safari. Some may say that Opera is more standards compliant, but I think it has a host of odd display issues, and would never use it as my primary browser unless I was forced to.

  • molona

    Well, the resolution comes rather late. Yet, the issue is not that Windows 7 comes with IE installed or not. The whole issue was that IE couldn’t be fully uninstalled because is part of the OS. And, well, still is and it will still be.

    I think the resolution, in that sense, is right. Microsoft has harmed the market and stopped web evolution because no matter what, if you used windows, you couldn’t get rid of it even if you wanted to.

  • @molona: How do the DLL libraries that offline applications use to render HTML harm the web if IE isn’t installed and they are never used to show an online webpage? How does merely having web components on the computer harm the browser market?

  • Anonymous

    If Microsoft has to remove IE, then therefore Apple should also.