Move to drop IE from Windows 7 threatens Microsoft's free upgrade program

EU customers must do 'clean install' from Vista, OEMs must include browser

Europeans who purchase Vista-powered PCs starting Friday will have to do a "clean install" of the free Windows 7 upgrade they'll receive later this year because Microsoft has yanked Internet Explorer from the new OS, according to a Web site that regularly publishes accurate information about the company's plans.

TechARP.com, a Malaysian Web site that has frequently posted details about Microsoft's free Windows 7 Upgrade Option offer, said yesterday that users in Europe will have to overwrite the hard drive with Windows 7 when they receive the upgrade media this fall.

"The upgrade path from Windows Vista to the E or the N versions of Windows 7 will not support an 'in-place' upgrade," TechARP said, quoting from a leaked Microsoft memo to computer makers. "Instead, the upgrade must be performed as a 'clean installation.'"

An in-place upgrade retains all data and applications, replacing Vista with Windows 7. A clean install, on the other hand, wipes the hard drive -- erasing all data and applications -- before installing the new operating system. In a clean install, users must back up data, then later restore that data and manually reinstall all applications. Microsoft will ease some of the transition with a special utility designed to back up data and some Windows settings.

"It is very important that the end user understands the implications of a clean installation upgrade, and takes all necessary steps to retain their applications, files and settings, including backing up applications, files and settings prior to installation," TechARP added, again citing the Microsoft memo to OEMs.

The change to a clean install -- previously, Microsoft made it clear that Vista users would be able to do in-place upgrades -- was necessitated by Microsoft's preemptive move to remove IE8 from Windows 7.

Last January, European Union antitrust officials charged Microsoft with illegally bundling IE with Windows. The EU is reportedly considering requiring a ballot screen that would offer users several browser choices. Most analysts saw Microsoft's dropping of IE8 as an attempt to head off the ballot screen concept.

Because the clean install of Windows 7 E -- the designation Microsoft's given to its IE-free edition -- results in a PC without a Web browser, computer makers will have to provide one with the free upgrade. "Microsoft recommends that OEMs include a Web browser with Windows 7 upgrade media," said TechARP. If OEMs do not take Microsoft's advice, users will find it difficult -- some of them will find it impossible -- to download a browser, in effect crippling their computers after the upgrade to Windows 7.

In the next breath, however, Microsoft tells OEMs that they can install IE8 on the upgrade media they'll provide to customers after Oct. 22, Windows 7's launch date.

"Microsoft will license Windows Internet Explorer 8 for E and N Editions of Windows 7 Products (the 'IE pack') to OEMs as a royalty-free, standalone product under Desktop Operating System (DTOS) Agreement 12.0," TechARP said. "OEMs may use the IE pack to preinstall Internet Explorer 8 on E and N versions of Windows 7, including versions of those products installed on Program upgrade media."

In effect, what Microsoft is saying is that while it will yank IE8 from Windows 7, computer makers will have the ability to return it to the upgrade.

Microsoft and its OEM partners are expected to kick off the upgrade offer Friday, June 26, the date that both TechARP and a leaked Best Buy memo have pegged as the start of the marketing campaign.

Only EU customers will be affected by the clean install requirement of Windows 7 E upgrades. Users in the U.S., for example, who buy a Vista PC between June 26 and the launch of Windows 7 will be able to do an in-place upgrade.

Tags antitrusteuropean unionMicrosoftWindows 7Internet Explorer

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld

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