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Removing IE would kill Win2k, WinXP, MS, says Redmond

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Both Windows XP and Windows 2000 will be rendered inoperable, and Microsoft will be unable to develop future new operating systems, if it is forced to separate IE from the operating system, according to court filings the company made on Friday. The US States still fighting Microsoft argue, on the contrary, that separation of this and other matters now "integrated" into the OS is both feasible and necessary.

Hence the appearance of serial expert witness Lee Hollaar, whose task it will be to provide the necessary techie data to 'prove' whether or not the disentanglement can be done. We've been down this particular road before a couple of times during and prior to the trial, and we've had Microsoft threatening to ship broken versions of operating systems before. But this time the company seems to be threatening to withdraw Windows from the market entirely, and not develop or ship it ever again.

Which is new, although threatening to tag its antagonists with responsibility for the total destruction of IT's biggest success story (which is effectively what Microsoft is doing here), if legally enforced separation were to go ahead, is something else we've heard before.

So off we go down memory lane. A long time ago, Microsoft began bundling/integrating Internet Explorer with Windows, prompting a preliminary injunction from Judge Jackson, who was then in the chair. Microsoft had previously shipped Windows and IE separately, IE not having actually been what you'd call fully developed when Win95 first came out, but in the period up to the injunction in late 1997 it had somehow become a part of the operating system. Before the appeals court rescued Microsoft by tossing out Jackson's injunction, Microsoft was indeed saying it'd have to ship versions of Win95 that didn't work in order to comply with it.

Note however that this particular scrap took place over Windows 95. Windows 98 was then in beta, and would ultimately ship with IE "integrated," but the disputed version of IE only shipped with later OEM versions of 95 on new machines, while it was (and for that matter, still is) also downloadable as an add-on. The trial documentation included an email from Bill Gates from February 1997 saying it would be important to leverage the OS to make people use IE instead of Navigator, and there was much else that suggested bolting the two together was a predatory decision, rather than a technical one.

As Win98 was essentially a retread of 95, shipping a version without IE oughtn't to have been any more difficult, but the overturning of the injunction meant Microsoft was able to ship it according to plan while the full trial was starting off, and that Professor Ed Felten was called in to demonstrate an uninstall program during the trial. This was the source of much hilarity, when Microsoft was caught accidentally falsifying a video 'proving' that it didn't work, and of much wrangling.

Felten didn't remove all the IE code, so Microsoft did a lot of arguing that he'd just hidden it. Removal/hiding also resulted in some functionality being broken, but the court's conclusion, supported by the appeals court, was that Microsoft had illegally "commingled" code, that is arbitrarily bolted functionality together in order to glue IE into Windows.

It seems equally clear that IE could be removed from Win9x if Microsoft wanted to do it, and that the Microsoft versus Hollaar argument will initially reprise the Felten row. However, this time around we'll be talking about Windows 2000 and WinXP as well, and that widens the battlefield quite a bit.

Microsoft has had a lot more time to build IE deeper into its latest versions of Windows, and if we're being charitable we might even say it's put a lot more IE-related functionality into the OS, which would break if IE were removed. If we were being uncharitable we could say that much of this functionality is IE-dependent precisely because the High Command required that it be so - it could have been done by alternative means, and any vast recoding problems caused by removal are therefore self-inflicted.

What Hollaar comes up with should therefore be interesting, especially if Shane at 98lite.net doesn't come up with a remover for Win2k OSR2 and WinXP sometime soon. 98lite provides an indicator of what can and can't be done as far as IE removal goes. As far as Win9x is concerned, it's worth noting that some features get lost depending on how much you remove, and that one of the permutations offered requires that you use the Explorer version from Win95. Also, note what Shane has to say about web view and active desktop being unavailable after IE's fully removed: "HELLO!!!!! You just removed IE!!! Thats the whole point!!!!!"

So when the arguments come round again, remember that one person's broken may be another one's fixed. ®

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