Multiple features can be disabled in Windows 7

Microsoft will expand the list of features that can be disabled when the Windows 7 Release Candidate becomes available, and it includes the ability to turn off Internet Explorer 8.

The expanded list was discussed in Microsoft's “Engineering Windows 7” blog March 6, and in addition to Internet Explorer 8, the list includes:

  • Windows Media Player
  • Windows Media Center
  • Windows DVD Maker
  • Windows Search
  • Handwriting recognition (through the Tablet PC Components option)
  • Windows Gadget Platform
  • Fax and Scan
  • XPS Viewer (including the virtual printer driver)

The ability to turn off operating system features isn't new. Windows Vista has the same Windows Features dialog box under Control Panel that allows you to check off features you don’t want to use.

The striking part of Microsoft's announcement is that the check-off boxes let users remove programs that the company once argued were an intrinsic part of the operating system. For instance, some years ago, Microsoft contended that Internet Explorer was inseparable from Windows, but a U.S. federal court decision in 2002 overrode that contention.

In January, the European Commission issued a statement of objections that echoed the earlier U.S. complaint. The commission has taken the view that Microsoft has abused its operating system monopoly to gain an unfair advantage in the European Union’s Web browser market.

Some of the features in the updated Windows 7 list have been subjects of disputes in the past. Veteran Microsoft watcher and ZDNet blogger Mary-Jo Foley called those programs litigation inspired, implying that Microsoft has created a legal exit for itself by making them removable.

The old Add/Remove Programs dialog box in Windows XP did not make the ability to completely remove Internet Explorer readily apparent. Jack Mayo, group program manager for Microsoft's documents and printing team, explained in the blog that developers expanded the list of removable features in Windows 7 to give customers greater control. However, not all components of a feature will be removed.

For instance, some shared elements, or "dependencies," will remain after a program or feature is unchecked in the Windows Features dialog box. In particular, the application programming interfaces for those programs will remain. The APIs are shared-code components that independent software vendors rely on to connect their programs with Windows.

Another reason why all components aren't removed is so that users won't have to return to the Windows 7 DVD if they need them in the future, Mayo said.

Some blog readers objected to the inability to remove all components of unwanted programs. They want to slim down Windows 7 for installation on netbooks, which typically use low-capacity solid-state drives. However, Microsoft says Linux has the same problem because of the API dependencies.

Microsoft has been positioning Windows 7 as a netbooks alternative to Linux operating systems. Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group, claimed in the March 6 blog post that "you'll see Windows 7 take significantly less space on install than Windows Vista."

However, some observers have said Windows 7, currently available for review at the beta stage, won't be small enough to run on netbooks.

Microsoft announced its Windows 7 product lineup last month, and it includes plans for a Windows 7 Starter Edition that some say will only be able to run three programs at a time. Possibly, the Starter Edition will be stripped down enough to run on a netbook.

Microsoft officials have recently claimed that Windows has an 80 percent attachment rate on netbooks. But those devices typically have been shipping with the older Windows XP operating system.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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