You Be the Judge

The central issue in the dispute between Microsoft and the Justice Department is whether Windows 95, the operating system, and Internet Explorer, the Web browser, are two separate products or different parts of one single product. Microsoft says one product; the government says two products. And the one-product-or-two test seems to be: Can you take a computer with both Internet Explorer and Windows, eliminate Internet Explorer, and still have Windows? The government says yes; Microsoft says no.

The judge in the case, Thomas Penfield Jackson, announced in court last month that he’d done it in about 90 seconds. Microsoft maintains that he did nothing of the sort. Well, you’re probably sitting in front of a computer right now. You’re probably using Windows, and there’s a good chance you’re also using, or at least have installed, Internet Explorer. So here’s your chance to duplicate Jackson’s experiment, try Microsoft’s version of the experiment, and decide for yourself who’s got the better of the argument. Can you remove Internet Explorer from your own computer without harming Windows?

Let’s begin with Jackson. If you’re going to follow along, be sure to print this story now and save these instructions. You’ll definitely need them on paper.

When Jackson retreated to his chambers on Thursday, Dec. 18, he sat at his computer–what he described as a machine running Windows 95–and in all likelihood, this is what he did.

Click Start on your screen. This will bring up a pop-up menu.

Click Settings, then choose Control Panel. A window will open.

Double-click Add/Remove Programs. This will bring up a list.

Click Internet Explorer in the list.

Click Add/Remove. If you’re using Internet Explorer now, you’ll have to quit. After a few minutes, you’ll be told to restart your machine.

Upon rebooting you’ll find that the Internet Explorer icon is gone from your desktop and Windows works fine. (To restore Internet Explorer, you’ll need to have it on your original Windows 95 CD-ROM or another disk. Or you can download a new copy from

Microsoft’s position is that Jackson did not actually remove Internet Explorer from his computer because the add/remove procedure leaves “components” of Internet Explorer on the machine. Later, if you’re curious about what these components are and how Microsoft decided which components belong to Internet Explorer, read two key documents, both written by David Cole, the Microsoft vice president in charge of the Internet Client and Collaboration Division. Document 1 and Document 2 are both affidavits submitted to Jackson. In the first affidavit, starting at Paragraph 41, you’ll find a list of components that are allegedly part of Internet Explorer.

But first, back to our experiment. A couple of serious warnings: Before removing any components, you must save copies onto a floppy disk. Make sure you have enough room on the floppy for all these files, as they take up about 1.2 megabytes. Later, you’ll use this disk to copy the components back onto your hard drive. Final warning: If your computer fails to work the way it used to even after returning the components, I can’t help you.

In the affidavits, Cole lists several components he associates with Internet Explorer, including Wininet.dll, Urlmon.dll, and Mshtml.dll. “Dll” stands for “dynamic-link library,” and .dll files are small chunks of computer code that are intended to be shared by more than one application. One thing you might try is to find out how many .dll files you have. Click Start, then Find, then Files or Folders, type *.dll, then hit Find Now. (Make sure your hard drive is selected in the drop-down list in Look in.) On my computer I found 1,230 .dll files. Even if you used “Add/Remove” on Internet Explorer, Wininet.dll, Urlmon.dll, and Mshtml.dll are still there. But Cole notes in his affidavit that these files are included with Internet Explorer when it is installed apart from Windows 95, from a disk or the Web. So let’s get rid of these files and see what happens. (You do have copies on disk, right?) Before proceeding, write down or remember the directories where these files are found. They’re probably all in c:\windows\system.

You cannot remove these .dll files while Windows is running (which is part of Microsoft’s point). So get rid of Windows and go into MS-DOS. (Click Start, click Shut Down, and choose Restart the computer in MS-DOS mode.) When you see the age-old C:\ prompt, switch into the directory where the .dll files are stored. (Type cd windows\system, for example, and hit Enter.) Then delete the three files (type del wininet.dll and hit Enter, then do the same for Urlmon.dll and Mshtml.dll). Now type win to return to Windows.

Afew moments later you’ll be back in the familiar desktop environment. However, your Internet applications (other than Internet Explorer–which you’ve removed, remember?) may have trouble running. (Your e-mail system, for example.) Or they may work just fine. It all depends on whether their authors designed them to use those three .dll files. If they did, you’re out of luck. (Microsoft people say that removing these files can also cause problems with non-Internet programs, such as Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes. You might try them too and see what happens, if you’re feeling reckless.)

Strangely, if you have a copy of Netscape Navigator installed, you’ll see that it runs fine. That’s because Netscape doesn’t use these particular .dll files. In fact, most of my other Internet programs appeared to be functioning normally, which surprised me, since I expected, as Microsoft has argued, that my version of Windows would be severely crippled. Try running Internet Explorer without these three components, though, and it really will be seriously crippled. On my computer, Internet Explorer turned into a clear window, with a view of the desktop where a Web page ought to be and failed to load any pages from the Internet.

So for me, at least, this experiment tends to support Microsoft’s contention that Jackson didn’t really remove Internet Explorer as he claimed to have done but casts doubt on Microsoft’s contention that you can’t truly remove Internet Explorer without crippling Windows. More than anything, though, it casts doubt on whether a government policy decision with billions of dollars at stake should really turn on a distinction–is it one product or two products?–that, in the end, owes more to metaphysics (divining the essential natures of things as inanimate as software programs) than to reason.

Anyway, after copying the three .dll files back into the directory where they came from, restarting Windows, and reinstalling Internet Explorer, the experiment is over and your computer should be back in its original condition. At least mine was.