Originating publication
December 22, 1997, Issue: 769
Section: News

A CRN Test Center Close-Up -- Is Windows Shattered?

Microsoft Corp., apparently on a mission to make Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's temporary restraining 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 Windows 95 itself, inoperable.

A CRN Test Center analysis concludes Microsoft's position is pure politics. The fact is, Internet Explorer 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 in Washington, wants IE removed, not disabled.

The court defines IE 3.0 as the product Microsoft "distributes at retail as 'Internet Explorer 3.0.' " It ignores the all-important OEM version (OSR 2.0, issued in August 1996) that includes 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 update pre-existing Windows 95 files, without which the operating system will not run.

How many? Microsoft will not say. The company refused to identify files related solely to IE and not to Windows 95 itself. No wonder:A Microsoft memo (www.microsoft.com/corpinfo/doj/oemdoj.htm) 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 be removed. Windows subsequently shatters, and Microsoft blames it on the ignorance of the court.

An alternative is to install the original August 1995 version of Windows 95, which omits IE. Doing so forgoes two years of progress, such as addition of support for large drive volumes, MMX and the Universal Serial Bus.

On Dec. 8, Microsoft shipped two OEM updates:a December 1997 "supplement" including only IE 4.01 and some Windows 95 patches, and OSR 2.5, which contains the entire Windows 95 operating system, IE 4.01 and the patches. Although the ruling does not refer to these updates, the same issues apply.

A Matter Of Interpretation

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

Microsoft first bundled IE (version 2.0) with Windows 95 in OEM Service Release 1 (OSR 1.0). More importantly, the company bundled many Windows 95 core components with the retail version of Internet Explorer 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 Windows 95. Many of these modules are core components of Windows 95.

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

Removing the Microsoft Foundation Class library (MFC40.DLL) makes it impossible for applications relying on it to run properly, if at all. And the lack of REGSVR32.EXE, used primarily to register programs, makes adding new applications to the system a trying task.

Cut To The Chase

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

To see if that would work, the CRN Test Center examined IEXPLORER.EXE with QuickView, a file-viewing utility with OSR 2.0.

If that executable was a critical component other programs and operating-system 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. In fact, QuickView described the program "File is executable (i.e., no unresolved external references)," meaning it has no entry points for programs to call on.

To prove that no programs used 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 a PC, rebooted it and ran several programs, including Netscape Communications Corp.'s own browser, without negative effect. It certainly kept Internet Explorer from working, though.

According to the CRN Test Center, a few programs, including the AT&T WorldNet Service, the Microsoft Network and the Personal Web Server, would not operate properly. An attempt to use them produces an error message requesting that Internet Explorer be installed; it does not bring down the operating system.