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"If the commission were to find that Microsoft had committed an abuse, the commission has suggested that consumers be offered a choice of browser, not that Windows should be supplied with no browser at all," the European Union's European Commission said in a statement.
Microsoft on Thursday said it would release a version of its next operating system, called Windows 7 E, that does not include Explorer 8. The company said it would be up to consumers and PC makers to decide whether to install Explorer or choose a rival browser, such as Mozilla's Firefox.
But the EC said the offer could do more harm than good.
"Given that over 95% of consumers acquire Windows pre-installed on a PC, it is particularly important to ensure consumer choice through the computer manufacturer channel," EC officials said. "Microsoft has apparently decided to supply retail consumers with a version of Windows without a Web browser at all.
"Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less," said the EC.
The EC earlier this year said Microsoft's bundling of Windows and Explorer violates antitrust rules and stifles competition in the browser market. The EU has also levied more than $1 billion in fines against Microsoft for past antitrust violations.
"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," wrote Dave Heiner, Microsoft's deputy general counsel, in a blog post Thursday.
Microsoft in Europe previously offered a version of Windows, called Windows N, that did not include the Windows Media Player. The version proved extremely unpopular with consumers, Microsoft said.
Heiner said Windows 7 E will be available in 23 European languages and will ship the same time Windows 7 is delivered to the rest of the world – Oct. 22.
InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Windows 7. Download the report here (registration required).