It is either a clever bit of strategy or a shambolic u-turn depending upon your view of the company, but Microsoft has now formally abandoned plans to sell the controversial Windows 7 E edition in Europe.
Windows 7 E was going to be the special edition, for European customers only, which would come without the Internet Explorer 8 browser client. A response that was aimed at preventing the European Union from throwing yet more charges of anti-competitiveness in the direction of Microsoft, along with the potential of fines reaching into the billions of dollars for good measure.
According to the Microsoft Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Dave Heiner, one of the reasons for taking the decision now to pull the plug on Windows 7 E was due to "concerns raised by computer manufacturers and partners" revolving around "the complexity of changing the version of Windows that we ship in Europe if our ballot screen proposal is ultimately accepted by the Commission and we stop selling Windows 7 E."
The ballot screen being the browser configuration option that Microsoft looks likely to adopt for Windows 7 and which would appear "shortly after new Windows PCs are set up by the user" according to Heiner. Microsoft hopes that this would make it obvious to Windows users that they have a choice of various browsers, although Internet Explorer 8 will be at the top of the list of the screenshot of the ballot system remains as is. Microsoft have opted for a market share ordering, with IE8, Firefox, Safari, Chrome and then Opera in that order. Heiner says that when users click on the link of their choice they will be connected "directly to the appropriate Web servers to download the various browsers." Unless they are upgrading and already have a default browser in which case they will bypass the ballot altogether. Or a manufacturer has a deal in place with Google, for example, to ship with the Chrome browser already configured.
The latter being an interesting scenario as it would mean that a kind of positive discrimination would be at work, with Internet Explorer 8 being cut out of the option equation altogether. Hardly what the EU Commission had in mind, I would imagine.
"If the Commission accepts our recent proposal, we would then fully implement all of its terms. As proposed, we would use the Internet to deliver a ballot screen update to customers who purchase Windows 7 in the European Economic Area, either as part of a PC or as a retail upgrade product" Heiner says.