Microsoft’s Dave Heiner has announced that plans for a separate Europe-only release of Windows 7, without Internet Explorer, have been abandoned at the last minute. This follows a new proposal to include a menu of browser choices instead:
In the wake of last week’s developments, as well as continuing feedback on Windows 7 E that we have received from computer manufacturers and other business partners, I’m pleased to report that we will ship the same version of Windows 7 in Europe in October that we will ship in the rest of the world.
Did Microsoft ever intend to ship Windows E, or was the whole thing some sort of bargaining proposition? Heiner even threatens to re-introduce it:
… if the ballot screen proposal is not accepted for some reason, then we will have to consider alternative paths, including the reintroduction of a Windows 7 E version in Europe.
Although Microsoft is making a significant concession by promoting other browsers, its proposal does mean that some users will still get IE by default. These are the users who either install Windows 7 themselves by purchasing Microsoft’s standalone package, or who receive a PC from an OEM that has chosen to leave IE as the default. In this case, here’s what happens:
Shortly after new Windows PCs are set up by the user, Microsoft will update them over the Internet with a consumer ballot software program. If IE is the default browser, the user will be presented with a list of other leading browsers and invited to select one or more for installation. Technically, this consumer ballot screen will be presented as a Web page that can be updated over time as new browsers become available.
There will be a proportion of users who have a “don’t bug me with this” reaction and just close the screen, in which case they will keep IE.
However, if the OEM supplies a PC with a browser other than IE as the default, the ballot screen will not appear, so Microsoft is at a disadvantage in that respect.
I am not sure how this will be handled in corporate environments. IE is arguably more attractive in a Microsoft-centric business environment, because it integrates with network management tools and should work properly with other Microsoft products such as SharePoint or Outlook Web Access. If IE is the corporate standard, I doubt admins will want users to see a ballot screen offering other browsers, and I imagine there will be some way of blocking it.
One final observation. Personally I have never felt locked into using IE or had any problem making choices between different browsers, email clients or other applications on Windows. That’s not the point of course; owning the defaults gives a vendor a substantial advantage because of inertia or lack of technical confidence among a certain proportion of users. It is still worth noting that users have always been able to install alternative browsers, and that the adoption achieved by Firefox, Opera, Google Chrome and others would not have been possible if Windows were truly a closed platform.