Originating publication
December 18, 1997, On-Line Only
Section: Breaking News

Removing Browser From Windows 95 Is Easier Done Than Said

Microsoft, apparently on a mission to make Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's order separating Internet Explorer from Windows 95 look foolish, wants OEM licensees to obey the order and delete 228 files, rendering not only IE, but also Win 95, inoperable.

A Computer Reseller News Test Center analysis concluded Microsoft's position is pure politics. IE can be disabled by removing one EXE file and one desktop shortcut. But the preliminary order, issued on Dec. 11 by the U.S. District Court, wants IE removed, not disabled.

The court decision defines IE 3.0 as the product Microsoft "distributes at retail as 'Internet Explorer 3.0.' " It ignores the all-important OEM version (OEM Service Release 2.0, or OSR 2.0, issued in August 1996) that includes both the complete operating system and IE 3.0.

The difference is enormous. Of the retail product's 228 files, some have nothing to do with IE. They are updates to pre-existing core Win 95 files, files without which the operating system simply will not run.

How many? Microsoft officials will not say. They refused to identify which files relate solely to IE and not to Win 95 itself. No wonder: A Microsoft memo states, "You may not elect to install only selected portions of Internet Explorer 3.0."

Microsoft, adhering to the letter of the court ruling, advises in the memo that all 228 files are to be removed. Windows subsequently shatters, and Microsoft blames it on the ignorance of the court.

Rather than spend time deleting all 228 files, an alternative is to install the original August 1995 version of Win 95, which does not include IE. But doing so forgoes two years' worth of progress, including the addition of support for large drive volumes, MMX, and the USB.

Next week, Microsoft is due to ship two OEM updates: a December 1997 "supplement" that includes only IE 4.01 and some Win 95 patches, and OSR 2.5, which contains the entire Win 95 OS, IE 4.01, and the patches. Although the ruling does not refer to these updates, the same issues apply.

How can the removal of a Web browser bring down a seasoned operating system? It's all a matter of semantics.

Microsoft first bundled IE (version 2.0) with Win 95 in OSR 1.0. But more important, the Redmond, Wash., software giant bundled many Win 95 core components with the retail version of IE 3.0.

Microsoft's letter identifies the 228 files contained within 19 compressed cabinet (.cab) files in that retail version that must be deleted to "de-bundle" this retail version of IE from Win 95. Many of those modules are core components of the Win 95 OS.

RUN32DLL.EXE is a good example of a core component. Win 95 uses it to handle the briefcase, shortcuts, remote networking, and other fundamental aspects of the OS.

Removing the Microsoft Foundation Class library (MFC40.DLL), where many of the building blocks for Win objects reside, makes it impossible for applications relying on those objects to run properly, if at all.

The lack of REGSVR32.EXE, used primarily to register programs, makes adding new applications to the system a trying task.

What does it really take to disable IE? Simply deleting IEXPLORER.EXE and its shortcut is all that is required.

To see if that would work without harming a system, the CRN Test Center examined IEXPLORER.EXE with QuickView, a file-viewing utility bundled with OSR 2.0.

If that executable was a critical component other programs and OS components relied on, QuickView would list the names of routines (called "entry points") inside IEXPLORER.EXE that other programs could call upon to make the program do work. No such routines were listed. QuickView described the program "File is executable (i.e. no unresolved external references)," which means it has no entry points for programs to call on.

To guarantee that no programs were using IEXPLORER.EXE by simply running the whole program in the background (as opposed to just a piece of it), the Test Center removed IEXPLORER.EXE from one system, rebooted it, and ran several programs, including Netscape's own browser without negative effect. It certainly kept IE from working, though.

As far as the Test Center can determine, a few programs, including AT&T WorldNet, The Microsoft Network, and the Personal Web Server, would not operate properly. AT&T WorldNet and Microsoft have an agreement whereby the service only uses IE, according to Microsoft. An attempt to use those components simply produces an error message requesting that IE be installed; it does not bring down the OS.

- John Yacono co-wrote this story with Eric Elgar