Microsoft on Friday said the upcoming public release candidate of Windows 7 will include the ability turn off Internet Explorer 8, which is the target of antitrust charges by the European Commission.
The option will be available through a control panel called "Windows Features," which will allow IE 8 to be turned off. The feature does not uninstall the browser. Instead, it deletes the IE 8 executable file "iexplore.exe." All other components remain, and the browser can be turned back on through the same panel.
Jack Mayo, group program manager for the Windows 7 document and printing team, said in Microsoft's Engineering Windows 7 blog that Microsoft wanted to give users more choice in turning off features without removing components that may be needed by developers and other applications.
"We want to provide choice while also making sure we do not compromise on compatibility by removing APIs provided for developers," Mayo said. "We also want to strike the right balance for consumers in providing choice and balancing compatibility with applications and providing a consistent Windows experience."
Mayo did not say when the Windows 7 Release Candidate would be publicly available. The final version of Windows 7 is expected by early next year. The OS was released in beta in January.
Mayo said the list of features that can be turned off was expanded, compared to what was available in Windows Vista. Besides IE 8, users can toggle on and off the Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center, Windows DVD Maker, Windows Search, handwriting recognition, Windows gadget platform, fax and scan, and the XPS viewer and services, including the virtual print driver.
Mayo did not mention Microsoft's anti-trust troubles in the posting. Nevertheless, in early January, the European Commission formally objected to Microsoft bundling IE with Windows, saying it "undermines product innovation, and ultimately reduces consumer choice." The action followed a late 2007 antitrust complaint filed with the EC by Norwegian Web browser maker Opera.
The governing body could require Microsoft to distribute Windows in the European Union without IE, or offer an installation screen that gives consumers a choice of which browser to install. It's too soon to say whether Microsoft's latest move will satisfy the EC. The software maker declined comment Friday.
Microsoft is giving Windows users the option to turn off IE at a time when the browser is slowly losing market share to Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari. From April 2008 to February of this year, IE's share fell to 67.44% from 74.83%, according to Web metrics firms Net Applications. Firefox, on the other hand, grew to 21.77% from 17.76% and Safari to 8.02% from 5.81%.