Thoughts on Microsoft’s move to ship Windows 7 without Internet Explorer in Europe

Microsoft, in a surprise move, have decided to ship Windows 7 in Europe without any web browser at all.

Yes, it’s true…

After making sure it still isn’t April 1st, I re-read the news. Apparently, this is Microsoft’s reaction to the antitrust allegations in the European Union, to just ship it blank so to speak (details can be found in Europe to get Windows 7 sans browser).

My thoughts

To begin with, while I’m very far from being an IE fan, I’m not really sure about this to begin with. Sure, Microsoft got a lot of the market this way, but now the web browser market is more balanced than in a long long time. Therefore, maybe this isn’t needed?

And, in terms of business practices and included software, Apple are doing the exact same thing, but no one talks about it. And sure, OS X isn’t close to having the same market share as Windows, but, in my opinion, it has a fairly substantial share as well. So, if we’re going down this path, fair has to be fair.


I think this leads to some interesting, and in some cases, saddening conclusions:

  • It will be hell for a number of users to get a hold of any web browser to install at all. IE 8 will instead be distributed it via CDs, FTP and similar. What is this? 1995?
  • There will be a free IE 8 pack for computer manufacturers to install. If that’s true, isn’t that about the same unbalanced competition as before?
  • Instead of giving users more choice, they get even less than before.
  • Apparently IE isn’t that tied to the operating system which Microsoft has claimed again and again for years. Great! Offer us multiple stand-alone versions side-by-side now then!

How it should be done

The only common sense here would to ship Windows 7, where the user can start a program to install any web browsers they want to. This program should not contain installers for any web browsers, but rather predefined download links to all the major web browser vendors, so each of them can ensure it’s the latest and most suitable version being installed.

And really, it’s not that hard, is it? Instead of messing with poor end users, do the sane thing and offer users options and freedom to choose. Like it should have been from day one.


  • Yup. The whole mechanics around legislation can only cope with very specific cases when it comes to technology, seldom with whole areas.

    What about wordpad? etc

    Just install the browser (IE8) and then give the user option to change it, just as the user should be able to choose as much other things as possible.


  • Chris says:

    This program should not contain installers for any web browsers, but rather predefined download links to […]

    But how do I open the link without a browser 😛

  • Stijn says:

    There is a quick overview of links to pages where you can download alternative web browsers in current versions of Windows already! Just Google for "web browser". The first page has links to Firefox, Opera, Safari and Chrome for me. Problem solved!

    Seriously though, in my opinion the only common sense thing to do would be keeping the status quo. If you really want another web browser than IE, you can easily find one by yourself, or it could be pre-installed by the OEM or that kid next door that knows so much about computers. I see no reason to shove the "there are other web browsers too, here's a list:" in the face of users who often couldn't care less about which browser they are using as long as it works. It would also create a lot of problems where people would blame Microsoft for when (for example) Firefox isn't working – it was the Microsoft install program that pointed them to it after all, wasn't it?

    By the way, I think "internet explorer 8" doesn't necessarily include the HTML rendering engine – so I suppose they will not include the IE8 application as such, but the rendering engine will probably still be there, used by the OS and other applications.

  • kimblim says:

    The EU, in it's witch hunt against Microsoft, has just made it even harder for the very people it claims to protect: the end users. I'm not a big fan of IE either, but a browser is now such a big part of the OS and the way we use computers, that Microsoft, Apple and any other OS-maker should be free to include their own browser with the OS.

    Sure, the people who visit this blog could probably find a way to install a browser, but I am sure that most users will be looking for "the internet" (the little blue "e") – I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people will end up buying Macs, because it comes with "the internet" pre-installed. *sigh*

  • hmm..the problem wont be big since computer manufacturers are still free to install which version of win7 as they wish. and I'm pretty sure they wont ship their computers without a web browser.

    the IE-free version of windows 7 is only the retail version sold from the shelf.


  • Behe says:

    The whole anti trust thing feels outdated. I still believe Windows should be shipped with IE, but it should still be possible to change browser preference. I mean you can't ship an OS without a browser today! What would OS X be without Safari? What would Linux be without Firefox? What would Wii be without Opera? 😉

    What will Windows be without IE?

  • Yes, either ship with IE8 anyway, or give a launch dialog with links to the latest version of all browsers.

    I see no other option. Stupid EU laws.

  • Aldrik says:

    Still waiting for multiple versions of IE? Microsoft's already released Expression Web SuperPreview. Personally I've been running multiple versions under WINE for years.

    PS. There's a typo in the first line of your blog post s/no/to/

  • Mekk says:

    Smart move of Microsoft.

    Considering the idea that The only common sense here would to ship Windows 7, where the user can start a program to install any web browsers they want to. I also suggest that instead of notepad Ms should ship the text editor installer (and don't forget Emacs you Redmond monopoly), instead of Paint prompt one to pick among PsPro, GIMP and others etc etc.

    PS I am mostly Linux user, on Windows I used to switch between FF and Chrome and I avoid Ms products. Still, I hate absurds.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Yes, it gets absurd as soon as it analyzed more thoroughly. In line with the guidelines, though, if anything, I prefer some sort of option after Windows 7 install to choose between web browsers.


    Ah, but via direct EXE file downloads, performed via Windows Explorer or similar. 🙂


    I think that's the gist of this, though. People don't know about options, and the EU is trying to make them aware. That's why a list of available web browsers would be good to tend to that.

    I do agree, though, that Microsoft would definitely get more support for things beyond their control, and that's not good either.

    Also, good point about the rendering engine. I didn't think that far…


    Yes, I agree. Having a web browser is vital, and the notion of shipping an operatig system without one is ridiculous.


    Yep. Which makes this whole thing even more useless, since it won't affect anything. Seems more of a matter of pride, if you ask me…


    I'm with you on this, although the Opera/Wii thing is a bit far-fetched… 🙂




    In my opinion, the Expression Web SuperPreview is not optimal, isn't working completely yet and, in the end, is not really the real thing. Personally, I prefer Multiple IE, although the WINE route is also an option.


    Yes, it has definitely gotten absurd.

  • Carl says:


    I guess I don't see how offering the end user some sort of list of browsers is practical or feasible. If Microsoft were to implement some sort of list, who would choose which browsers would be included on the list? If the list were a few of the current popular browsers, other browsers would complain for not being included. If every browser were included, imagine the number of browsers that would suddenly appear so that they would be included in the list. The only practical long-term option is the one MS is taking: no-browser.

    No OEM will deliver a computer without a browser. They are free to choose which one(s) they want.

    In order to end up with an OS without a browser, the end user must purchase Windows 7 in a box off-the-shelf from a retail store. Anyone who can install their own operating system will have the expertise to install a browser from a memory stick.

  • Marc K says:

    This is silly now… I mean I can understand why Netscape were angry back in the 90s when their proprietary browser "ruled the web", but if Microsoft hadn't included IE with Windows at no additional cost, I doubt that we would have ended up with an open source Firefox. Think about it, it's in the name! Firefox was built from what used to be called Firebird, which itself was a new name for the Phoenix browser that "rose from the ashes" of the closed source Netscape Communicator browser that lost its dominance.

    It doesn't excuse the ridiculous lack of adherence to common sense web standards, along with a sleu of often undocumented IE 'behaviours' and bugs, though… At least IE8 seems to be catching up, for the benefit of its users and the relief of web devs. Apart from those who are critical of the latest round browser targetting, this time by strange meta tags!

  • Marc K says:

    Just to clarify, I rarely actually use IE7 now – I only found out a few weeks ago that IE8 was released in March, which surprised me as I'm usually quick to update. Funnily enough I think it appeared in my XP update list at one point, but it doesn't seem to have installed yet… And I don't think it's been auto-installed on my Vista desktop yet either.

  • Richard Fink says:

    Just about everybody in the industry with any common-sense thinks this is insane.

    What will happen is this: to prevent chaos, the OEM manufacturers will pre-install IE8. They aren't under any court orders and can do as they please.

    And if not, I wonder if the anti-trust judges at the EU will be setting up a toll-free number to provide tech support?

    Good luck, my European friends.

  • […] Thoughts on Microsoft’s move to ship Windows 7 without Internet Explorer in Europe […]

  • Robert Nyman says:


    I think it can be discussed back and forth whether this is really a proper demand from the European Union, but for the sake of argument, let's leave that behind us, and try to pay heed to those requirements.

    I hear what you're saying about web browser vendors wanting to be on that list etc, but really, there are 5 major web browsers out there, and with the exception of Google Chrome, it has been so for almost ten years. So, my take is that it's pretty obvious who should be on that web browser list.

    In terms of practicalities, I personally think it would be easy for Microsoft to talk to the other web browser vendors, agree on static install links for respective web browser, and that's it.

    Regarding OEMs selling Microsoft's operating system, which web browser do you think they will choose to ship? So, back at square one, with no balanced competition – it's just the same problem, but from another angle.

    In those cases where there is no web browser whatsoever, be it new clean installs upgrades or similar, it will make it harder for the end user. Also, even if people can install an operating system, it wil be more difficult to get it from a memory stick, CD or similar, than to just be presented with a Choose web browser(s) dialog after the operating system has finished installing.

    It seems that the European Union think along the same lines, and from what I have heard and read, they do not deem this move by Microsoft to be sufficient or the best alternative for users.


    Yes, from the beginning it was probably a good thought/initiative, but at this time and the results we see, no one will probably gain from it – especially with all the loopholes that there seem to be.


    Yes, if OEMs, who closely co-operate with Microsoft, do that, then everything has been a waste. My take, though, is that if this legislation has to be followed, a dialog after the operating system has been installed/started the first time to offer the end user to choose web browser(s) is the least bad and most fair option.

  • BARTdG says:

    This Microsoft idea is just a tactical move to pretend they are willing to sort of cooperate. But I guess the EU are not going to agree, as it's a stupid solution which doesn't benefit the end user.

    I just don't see any problems with having to choose one or more browsers as you first start up Windows. Usually you have to fill in some data anyway in a wizard or something. No average user will even notice something strange. So there is no need for OEM manufacturers to install IE8.

    The good thing is that people will know that <code>IE != the internet</code>. Most of them will choose IE and that's fine. But creating awareness that there is a market, a choice, stimulates innovation, which is good for everyone. (Even for Microsoft: when IE was more or less the only mainstream browser they got lazy and did nothing for 5 years.)

    If Microsoft are sure that IE is as good a browser as its rivals, why are they so afraid of offering their users a choice?

  • Robert Nyman says:


    I completely agree. It would be a very easy thing to offer people first time Windows start up. And definitely, making people aware of what a web browser actually is, and that there are options, is a very good thing!

  • Carl says:

    Allow me to play devil's advocate here. These are examples of what kind of complaints would follow after implementing what you are suggesting, Robert…

    Why five browsers and not four? or three? or two? Why include browser X when it has less than 10% market share? What percentage is the cut off point? What justification is there for that percentage? When a browser falls below that value does it get deleted? Why does market share even matter? Lynx has been around longer than all these browsers. Why not offer Lynx?

    A list (a) provides unfair advantage to those browsers on the list which is contrary to what the EU seeks (b) is unmaintainable as browsers enter and exit the market. Why should Microsoft spend resources keeping up with which browsers are currently in vogue? The EU is asking for a level playing field and now they have one. The lesson is this: be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    There are five de-facto web browsers, so I don't really see it as an issue. Will people argue about it? Sure, but that is always the case.

    My opinion is that this is just a childish Steve Ballmer-esque reaction, which will not hold. With Microsoft's already poor reputation, one would think they'd be interested in pleasing end users, but this is yet another strategic mistake.

    Will the European Union get what they want? Undoubtly, and I would be surprised if they don't ask for more of Microsoft.

  • This might actually be what brings down Microsofts dominance in the browser market.

    Just imagine what scandals OEMs can incur, when they're suddenly responsible for choosing an appropriate version of IE to install. You'll end up with hopelessly outdated, broken or even infected browsers.

    Personally, I believe this is a really absurd move, and I am sure that some of the talented marketing wizards of Microsoft could come up with something a lot better.

    How about this: After the computer starts up, you're presented with a little guide, that shows you how you can tailor Windows to suit your tastes. You're presented with options for installing browsers, media players, trial versions of all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff … all of it controlled and presented by Microsoft spindoctors. Perhaps that guide could be available at all times? A bit like an App Store for Windows?

    Instead, they're willing to put their browser dominance in the hands of OEMs?


  • Robert Nyman says:


    Yeah, it's definitely far from optimal.

  • Rian M. says:

    Honestly I have to take Microsoft side on this one. Their decision is the only one that makes sense for a business in that situation. I mean seriously the choice they were left with was to either not include it and leave it to system manufactures, or to physically help its competition gain ground.

    The right decision was completely missed on this one which would be to let Microsoft put their browser on their operating system, but to make them change it so the user could easily uninstall it. Microsoft shouldn't be forced to choose between selling a OS that is not fully functional or helping its competition.

    In my opinion this has nothing to do with stopping anti competitive behavior but simply forcing Microsoft to be less competitive than they can be.

  • Chris says:

    It seems if your call has been heard: CNET article on browser ballot and screenshot mockup.

    Have great holidays.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Rian M.,

    Well. basically, there's no great solution to this either way. However, with what the EU decided, I think the best option is to offer end users the option to choose.


    Very interesting, thanks!

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