Microsoft has confirmed plans to ship a version of Windows 7 without Internet Explorer. But what can we expect from Windows 7 E, as the browserless system will be called?
Windows 7 E will be made available throughout Europe starting on October 22. The decision to pull IE from Windows comes as a result of an ongoing European Commission (EC) case surrounding anti-competition laws and Microsoft's bundling of software.
Windows 7, browser-free
Word of the browser-free Windows 7 edition first broke when an apparent memo about the plans was leaked to CNET News yesterday morning. Microsoft acknowledged the memo's authenticity - it was sent from the company to computer manufacturers and retailers, representatives say - and Microsoft has since gone on to elaborate about the plans.
"We're committed to making Windows 7 available in Europe at the same time that it launches in the rest of the world, but we must also comply with European competition law as we launch the product," explains Dave Heiner, Microsoft's vice-president and deputy general counsel.
"Given the pending legal proceeding, we've decided that instead of including Internet Explorer in Windows 7 in Europe, we will offer it separately and on an easy-to-install basis to both computer manufacturers and users."
The European Windows 7 E editions, then, will function just like the Windows 7 offerings sold in America - only without Internet Explorer automatically included. With that said, new computer users may still find IE on their systems, given the options Microsoft is providing for manufacturers to preinstall the program before shipping their PCs.
"Microsoft will make it easy and convenient for PC manufacturers to preinstall IE 8 on Windows 7 machines in Europe if they so choose," the original Microsoft memo is quoted as stating. "PC manufacturers may choose to install an alternative browser instead of IE 8, and as has always been the case, they may install multiple browsers if they wish."
Microsoft's Windows 7 browser battle
The browserless approach wasn't Microsoft's only option. The EC, Heiner says, also discussed the company including IE and other browsers within Windows 7 by default. It also suggested a concept where users would be presented with a 'ballot screen' that would allow them to pick their browser of choice during the initial setup process.
"Important details of these approaches would need to be worked out in coordination with the EC, since they would have a significant impact on computer manufacturers and web browser vendors, whose interests may differ," Heiner responds. "Given the complexity and competing interests, we don't believe it would be best for us to adopt such an approach unilaterally."
For now, then, Windows 7 E is the answer - at least, here in Europe. Over in the States, they'll be getting regular Windows 7, Internet Explorer and all. US Vista users are expected to be offered a $49.99 upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium or a $99.99 upgrade to Windows 7 Professional. Those who recently bought a new PC with Vista preloaded may also be eligible for Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Option, which would provide a cheaper or possibly even free upgrade to Windows 7. Microsoft, however, has yet to release the specific requirements of the upgrade scheme.