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Will Windows 7 make IE optional? Antitrust fight is for the enterprise, Opera says

UPDATED 03/06/09:Microsoft has confirmed that it will be making Internet Explorer 8 an "optional" feature in Windows 7, according to the company's Engineering Windows 7 blog.

The blog states: "In Windows 7 we are expanding the number of features you have control over in this regard, giving customers more control, flexibility and choice in managing the features available in this version of Windows. In addition to the features that were already available to turn on or off in Windows Vista, we’ve added the following features to the list in Windows 7: * Windows Media Player * Windows Media Center * Windows DVD Maker * Internet Explorer 8 * Windows Search * Handwriting Recognition (through the Tablet PC Components option) * Windows Gadget Platform * Fax and Scan * XPS Viewer and Services (including the Virtual Print Driver)"

FROM 03/04/09: Microsoft may make Internet Explore optional in Windows 7. In about a week, Microsoft will be up against its deadline to respond to the European Union over charges that bundling IE with Windows is an antitrust violation. In the meantime, Microsoft has been secretly testing a new feature in Windows 7 that would allow users to completely delete IE from the OS, reports Paul Thurrott on his Windows ITPro blog.

Such a feature would allow Microsoft to easily address the mounting pressure from its browser competitors while sidestepping more fines from the EU. (Right or wrong, the EU does seem to love to fine Microsoft.) Should this feature be adopted, IT departments would be free to standardize on other browsers, if they so wished, too. But even more importantly, with that choice would come added pressure for Microsoft to ensure that its browser conforms more strictly to standards. Ironically, if IE renders Web pages as well or better than its competitors then people will be more likely to want to use it.

The original complaint on the matter was filed by Opera Software with the EU in December, 2007. A year later, the EU determined that it basically agreed with Opera's anti-trust complaint, giving Microsoft until March 12 to formally respond. Since the start of February, it's been "everybody aboard." Last week, Google (predictably) jumped in when it applied to become a third-party in the European Commission's proceeding. This followed Mozilla's choice to do the same the week prior.

Interestingly, it all comes as IE's market share has faced increased pressure -- with some reports claiming that competitors hold 20% of the market now, and rising.

Given this, Microsoft Subnet conducted an e-mail interview with Opera Software and asked why Opera felt this anti-trust complaint was necessary.

Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie replied that popular market share numbers are misleading because Microsoft basically owns the most important market of them all -- the enterprise.

"IE continues to have a strong position and is not losing market share at the rate some people report. The reason is somewhat technical: current statistics rely on analyzing logs from a handful of self-selected internet web sites. Intranets, on the other hand, are ignored in these statistics. Most of the traffic from corporate users go to intranets and this traffic is not reflected in the statistics," he said. "The PC market can be split in two parts: the corporate market (60%), and the home market (40%). The corporate market is dominated by Microsoft; few big organizations install anything but IE, and users are typically not allowed to install new software. If you correct for this omission in the statistics, we believe Microsoft's Internet Explorer holds around 84% product market share. This is essentially the same they had at the turn of the century. Therefore, we think that government involvement is necessary."

Also see:

EU slaps Microsoft (again) for antitrust over IE bundled with Windows

Here we go again: Opera files antitrust complaint against Microsoft

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