Microsoft to tour Europe sans browsers

Redmond's up to its old anti-anti-trust tricks, shipping Windows 7 in Europe minus Internet Explorer. If nothing else, you've got to admire Microsoft's chutzpah

Ah, those wacky Europeans. They think nothing of stripping down and jumping into the Mediterranean in the altogether or, at most, those skimpy man sacks they call swimsuits.

Now Microsoft has announced it's going European. Next fall, copies of Windows will be bumming around the continent without their browsers. If the company has its way, users across the pond will be treated to Windows 7 E -- with the E standing for Excluding Explorer, or possibly just "Eff you, you cheese-loving snobs."

As Microsoft veep Dave Heiner puts in his lawyerly way:

We're committed to making Windows 7 available in Europe at the same time that it launches in the rest of the world, but we also must comply with European competition law as we launch the product. 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.

Remember the mid-90s when Microsoft "crushed" Netscape by bundling IE with Win 95? Back then Microsoft told the DOJ's antitrust folks it wasn't possible to separate the browser from the OS. Apparently they managed to fix that problem. Are these guys innovators or what?

The problem? Nobody asked Microsoft to decouple IE from Windows. They went ahead and decided to do this all on their lonesome, those big-hearted galoots.

The European Commission wanted computer buyers to be able to choose which browser to install off a menu (with, presumably, Opera, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari listed as main courses alongside IE). So it is clearly not amused. The EC posted a response to Microsoft's announcement on its Web site:

...the Commission had suggested to Microsoft that consumers be provided with a choice of web browsers. 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.

Critics of the move (in particular, Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner) are calling this a repeat of 2004, when Microsoft responded to one of the EC's antitrust rulings by cleverly/sneakily offering two versions of Windows XP for sale -- one with Windows Media Player tucked inside, one without -- for the same not-so-low price. Guess which version sold more?

This latest maneuver clearly is Microsoft's way of saying up yours to the EC, which has so far levied around $2.6 billion in fines on the company for being, well, Microsoft. Next, they'll be offering to pay the fines in Monopoly money.

Unfortunately, the problem here isn't a lack of consumer choice -- it's a lack of consumer motivation. Most people are just too damned lazy to go out and find a better browser. That's why Opera and the EC want to impose the choice upon them, and why Microsoft wants to make that process as painful as possible. If that means installing a browser from (gasp) a disc, well, that would suit Redmond just fine.

Another, bigger problem? Sites that will only work with IE or work poorly without it. Personally, I only use IE at gunpoint -- which means whenever I visit my bank's Web site, use QuickBooks online, watch a movie instantly on Netflix, or update Windows (of course). You want to fix the IE quasi-monopoly, that might be a good place to start.

In the meantime, I'll just continue using Chrome, Firefox, etc., and wait for the rest of the world (and my bank) to wise up. And I'll keep my pants on, thank you very much.

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