A Windows enthusiast blog has discovered that Internet Explorer 8 can be turned on or off in a recent Windows 7 build, and Microsoft is now admitting it.
The news of such divorce-ability between the browser and the operating system would be good news for regulatory agencies, especially the European Commission, which reportedly has been considering requiring such a split.
The AeroXperience blog found that, in Windows 7 build 7048, the dialog box for turning features on and off includes a checkbox for Internet Explorer 8. It did, however, note a catch.
"This only seems to wipe out the actual executable running Internet Explorer 8 (iexplore.exe)," writes blog author Bryant Zadegan, "but given that many of the most vocal proponents of choice were just looking for an option to functionally remove IE8, this might've been the only way to do it without killing the rest of Windows."
The blog notes that completing this removal requires two reboots and a configuration step, which might indicate that there's some kind of remapping for IE-related functions going on. Afterward, the blog writers said, the IE8 components are still present, but IE itself is missing from Set Program Defaults and there are no complaints from the system.
Some other observers, however, said this step doesn't remove IE8 completely, because it has become so interwoven with other parts of the Windows operating system that its complete removal is difficult, if not impossible.
Enable or Disable
The European Commission, prompted by an antitrust complaint from Opera Software, issued a "statement of objections" in January that pointed, in particular, to the inclusion of the Internet Explorer browser as part of the Windows OS. Microsoft has issued a statement on its blog to the effect that it will provide a response within the next couple of months and will have little to say before then.
In the meantime, Mozilla, creator of the Firefox browser, has also joined the complaint. IE's relationship to the Windows OS was a major issue in Microsoft's battle with the U.S. Department of Justice.
One ongoing question is whether the EC will require Microsoft to allow the complete removal of IE from Windows -- whatever that means -- or whether distribution of other browsers along with IE might suffice.
Microsoft is now implicitly acknowledging some level of ability to disable IE in the upcoming operating system. In its Windows 7 Engineering blog, a posting early Friday indicates that the release candidate will have the ability to "enable it or disable" an expanded list of features that now include Windows Media Player, Windows Search -- and Internet Explorer 8.
Mark Margevicius, a research director at Gartner, agreed there is a question about what "removed" means. "If there are still components in, say, the registry," he asked, "is IE removed?"
This disabling in Windows 7, he said, doesn't appear to be functionally that different from earlier versions of Windows, "and Microsoft has never really admitted that IE is a separate app." The difference here, he said, is that Microsoft appears to be admitting that, in Windows 7, a user will be able to easily turn IE off.