Reports: Microsoft lets users yank IE8 from Windows 7

A just-leaked build of Windows 7 lets users remove Internet Explorer (IE), the first time that Microsoft Corp. has offered the option since it integrated the browser with Windows in 1997, two bloggers reported Wednesday.

The move might have been prompted by recent charges by the European Union that Microsoft has stifled browser competition by bundling IE with its operating system, the bloggers speculated.

According to postings on Chris' Repository of Knowledge and AeroXperience, the 7048 build of Windows 7 -- a version that has not been released to the public but is available as a pirated copy on file-sharing sites -- includes an option to eliminate Internet Explorer 8 (IE8).

Both blogs posted a screenshot of Windows 7's "Windows Features" dialog box, which included an option to turn off IE8. "There is a catch: For now, this only seems to wipe the actual executable running Internet Explorer 8 (iexplore.exe)," said Bryant Zadegan in an entry on AeroXperience.

"This might've been the only way to do it without killing the rest of Windows," Zadegan noted. "In addition, this actually takes two reboots and a configuration step to complete, so there's definitely something going on behind the scenes, likely a remapping of where IE-related functions can be found for other elements in Windows so that Windows doesn't complain about IE's nonexistence."

On Chris' Repository, Chris Holmes chimed in with more information. "All references to IE are removed from the OS," Holmes said.

Both Zadegan and Holmes, who collaborated on digging up the new option, also posted Windows 7 screenshots that showed the operating system sans IE: Microsoft's browser was absent from the "Set Program Defaults" choices.

Windows 7 Build 7048 first began appearing on file-sharing sites, such as The Pirate Bay and Mininova, two BitTorrent tracking sites, on Monday. Traffic has been substantial since then, with Mininova reporting more than 21,000 downloads of the pirated operating system.

Microsoft has only released one build to the public -- Windows 7 beta, build 7000 -- which it rolled out Jan. 10 but has since stopped offering. The company has been mum, however, about when it will deliver another build to users, though it has hinted that it would do so when it wrapped up a "release candidate."

Zadegan and Holmes each mentioned the accusations made last month by EU antitrust officials against Microsoft's bundling of IE, and the possible actions it may demand. One solution under consideration would require Microsoft to disable IE if the user decided to install a different browser, such as Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox or Google Inc.'s Chrome.

"A quick solution to the EU's argument against them?" asked Holmes. "Time will tell."

Microsoft had no comment when asked to confirm whether Windows 7 will let users dump IE8 or whether the option was in reaction to the EU charges.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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