New Microsoft Windows will enable Internet Explorer to be switched off

07 Mar 2009


Internet Explorer has been added to the list of Windows 7 components that users can remove from the OS, according to a Friday blog post from the Windows 7 team. In earlier versions of Windows, users could disable, but not actually unload the browser.

Internet Explorer 7On Thursday, Mike Nash, vice president of Windows product management, declined to comment on the bloggers' reports on this development. "It's unfortunate that builds leak out," Nash said. "But I can't comment on unreleased products." However, Friday brought an official acknowledgement of the rumour.

"'Turning Windows Features On or Off' has a long history in Windows, going back to the earliest days of the 32-bit code base," Jack Mayo, group programme manager for Microsoft's Documents and Printing team, wrote on the blog. "For Windows 7 we've engineered a more significant list of features and worked to balance that list in light of the needs of the broad Windows platform as well."

Mayo listed the applications that can be switched off. They include Internet Explorer 8, Fax and Scan, handwriting recognition, Windows DVD Maker, Windows Gadget Platform, Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center, Windows Search, and XPS Viewer and Services.

It's unclear how this will affect software and other Windows features that require access to Web content, like Web-enabled links in Microsoft Word or Windows Explorer search boxes.

"If a feature is deselected, it is not available for use," Mayo wrote. "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."

It should be noted that the staging file for installation of Internet Explorer will remain on Windows 7 machines even with the feature deselected in the Windows Features dialog box. This is to prevent users from having to hunt for installation disks if they ever want to reinstall the browser. Writes Mayo: "This staging is important feedback we have received from customers who definitely do not like to dig up the installation DVD."

The blog post referred to the ongoing philosophical argument over what constitutes an OS feature versus a separate application, but pretty much keeps to the technical issues involved with allowing users to disable components and features of the Windows.

Certain features are expected to be available to third-party developers of Windows applications, so the developers are concerned about avoiding a compatibility fiasco like they experienced with Windows Vista.

The post does not mention legal issues related to the European Commission's inquiry about Microsoft's tying of IE to Windows. That suit was spurred on by browser competitors Firefox, which has passed 20 per cent of browser market share, and Opera, which still lags at less than 1 per cent. (See: Internet Explorer rival Firefox 3.0 creates download record, but reveals flaws)

In January, EU regulators claimed that Microsoft "shields" IE from competition by bundling it with Windows. The EU's Competition Commission said that among possible remedies, it might make the company cripple IE if the user installed a rival browser, such as Firefox or Google Inc.'s Chrome. (See: Microsoft again comes under EU anti-trust probe)

Other applications on the Windows 7 list have been the subject of previous antitrust actions or complaints. Windows Media Player, for example, was one focus of a concluded EU antitrust case. In addition, Microsoft gave in to Google Inc.'s demands, filed with the US Department of Justice in 2007, that it change Windows Vista's desktop search tool.

And in 2006, Adobe threatened to go to the DOJ over the "Save As PDF" command in the Microsoft Office 2007 suite; XPS (XML Paper Specification) is Microsoft's answer to Adobe's PDF format.

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