Windows 7 box art
Even Windows 7 "N" versions will not have IE

Microsoft is anticipating great success with its new Windows 7 operating system, but is being wary of any antitrust violations that may occur. The company has already been fined over $2 billion USD by the European Commission for previous infractions, including a record setting $1.4 billion USD fine in February of last year.
Those infractions centered on Microsoft's inclusion of Windows Media Player in Windows XP. After several costly appeals, the firm relented and shipped "N" versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista in order to comply with the European Commission's directives.

Earlier this year, the European Commission moved to require Microsoft to package third-party browser software with Windows.  Those rules would also require Microsoft to provide support to make third-party browsers work with Windows components, such as Windows Explorer. Microsoft is currently in litigation to appeal the introduction of those rules.

In order to avoid any potential problems, Microsoft will ship special European versions of all its Windows 7 editions. Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 will be available, but will be appended with an "E" at the end of the product name. For example, "Windows 7 Home Premium E" will most likely be the most common edition in Europe.  The "E" versions of Windows 7 will ship on October 22, the same time as Windows 7 ships to the rest of the world. Global language support is extensive, and in Europe alone Windows 7 will be available in 23 European languages.

"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 also must comply with European competition law as we launch the product," wrote Dave Heiner, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Microsoft.

The "E" versions will be sold alongside new Windows 7 "N" versions in Europe, with the only difference being that "N" versions do not include Windows Media Player. "Microsoft will not offer for distribution in the European territory the Windows 7 product versions that contain IE, which are intended for distribution in the rest of the world," Microsoft said in a memo distributed to its OEM partners. "This will apply to both OEM and Retail versions of Windows 7 products." 

OEMs can choose to add any browser they want to their Windows 7 machines, including Internet Explorer, so European consumers who are purchasing new PCs will be still be able to access the Internet.  Consumers will also be able to add any web browser to their PCs, to supplement or replace the browsers preinstalled by their computer manufacturer.
"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.  This means that computer manufacturers and users will be free to install Internet Explorer on Windows 7, or not, as they prefer. Of course, they will also be free, as they are today, to install other Web browsers," elaborated Heiner.

EU officials have proposed a ballot screen system which would tailor the OS to a specific browser of the user's choice when first using the OS. Among the browsers considered as candidates are Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, and Opera.

In order to meet its October 22 Windows 7 global  release date, Microsoft needed to start telling OEMs this week exactly what to expect in Windows 7, so they can begin the software engineering work necessary to have their Windows 7 PCs available in stores on  that date. That includes the ballot screen system if OEMs choose to adopt it, as well as legal, financial, and technical negotiations on including the browsers from the various third parties.

Microsoft is moving forward with a collaborative tone: "We will continue to discuss browser issues and other matters with the Commission.  But even as the Commission processes continue, we know we need to have a clear plan in place to address the “bundling” issue in Europe because, at the end of the day, the obligation to comply with European competition law belongs to Microsoft alone". 

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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