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Friday, June 12, 2009, 11:00 am PT (02:00 pm ET)

Microsoft reveals plans to ship Windows 7 without IE in Europe

Due to ongoing antitrust issues with the European Union, Microsoft has confirmed it will ship Windows 7 in Europe without its flagship browser, Internet Explorer 8.

The news comes as Apple’s newly released Safari 4 browser achieved 6 million downloads from Windows users – with users of Microsoft’s operating systems accounting for more than half of the 11 million total downloads of the browser since its release Monday.

As first reported by CNet News, Microsoft released a confidential memo to PC makers in Europe stating they may "offer IE8 separately and free of charge and will make it easy and convenient for PC manufacturers to preinstall IE 8 on Windows 7 machines in Europe if they so choose. PC manufacturers may choose to install an alternative browser instead of IE 8, and as has always been the case, they may install multiple browsers if they wish."

After the memo leaked, Microsoft responded on its own public relations blog. Writing on behalf of the software giant, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner said Microsoft officials are concerned by the lack of sufficient browser competition in Europe. A preliminary opinion in January from the European Commission only served to solidify that concern.

Microsoft has been ensnared in an antitrust dispute with the European Union for years. After it was alleged that the Windows developer was engaging in anti-competitive practices, Microsoft was forced to release versions of its operating system without Windows Media Player bundled, as it traditionally is in other markets. In 2004, the European Union ordered Microsoft to pay €497 million for alleged abuse of its dominant position in the market.

Heiner said that the removal of Internet Explorer will not keep Windows 7 from its Oct. 22 worldwide launch date, nor will it affect the performance or abilities of the operating system.

The European Union’s executive branch responded to Microsoft’s announcement critically. "The Commission had suggested to Microsoft that consumers be provided with a choice of web browsers," the European Commission said in a press release. "Instead 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."

Internet Explorer will remain in copies of Windows XP and Windows Vista. Should a manufacturer ship a system without any browser installed, the potential scenario raises an important question: How will a user download and install a browser? The European Commission has suggested its own solution: Microsoft should "allow consumers to choose from different Web browsers presented to them through a 'ballot screen' in Windows."