@James Butler, @Adam Trickett
The length of time I have been working with computers really is irrelevant. Suffice to say, long enough. What Microsoft used to do is also irrelevant at this stage and in the context I presented, and I believe that my statements may not have adequately expressed my thoughts on the matter.
It is a matter of communication. A modern operating system needs a browser, just as much as a computer in the 80s needed a terminal program, one of which was often bundled with new modems. In the 90s, when I needed to get on the Internet, I had to use a terminal to use IRC, ftp, or Lynx via a local BBS. Some friendly IRC user sent me a free TCP/IP stack which allowed me to then contact the Internet directly. Getting back to my point, the only way I was able to get "online" in the first place was using a terminal program which I would have needed to somehow acquire separately, but was fortunately included on floppy with the full system I purchased.
I suppose the same arguments could have been made when Windows included TCP/IP and DUN functionality, thereby trumping Trumpet.
But to further return to my point, novice users are not on the whole going to buy a computer and then select a browser CD to install. They want that stuff to be already there. Power users, on the other hand, will happily use IE to download Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Galeon, Nutscrape, AOL, or whatever floats their boat. Microsoft may not have allowed alternative browsers to be installed on previous operating systems -- though I recall Nutscrape being used on Windows 3.11 machines, and AOL being bundled in later Windows releases -- and may have prevented OEMs from bundling a preferred browser, but they were tromped for it and Windows still allows freedom for browser selection.
Of course, with the caveat that a default browser change for one user affects all users on the machine. I believe a registry hack overcomes this, but it does prevent one user from preferring IE and another from preferring Safari on the same machine. That is bad mojo. The fact that the Windows 7 /RELEASE CANDIDATE/ upgrade defaults the user to Internet Explorer regardless of the user's preference is also bad mojo, and should be fixed before the final release.
Which is apparently the case: "Microsoft indicated that this only applied to the recommended method of installing the test version of Windows 7, and was unrelated to the experience most users would have when the new operating system is officially released." (Although I do not know what Microsoft means by "most users," and hold that statement suspect.)
I do not know the legal aspects of being a convicted monopolist. In no way defending Microsoft, I have a difficult time wrapping my head around how being a convicted monopolist means Microsoft should be held to a different standard. Instead, the conviction should set the standard to which all companies are held. If being a convicted monopolist means that your company and/or product is shred to bits to allow weaker products to survive, then I truly think we need to take another look at how our system works. Good ideas should and will survive on their own merits, not under the guise of being "fair."
I myself took a whack at Microsoft several years back while working for an ISP for the way Microsoft guided users into MSN with Windows' Internet Connection Wizard. The wording for the ICW lead users to believe that they would be able to choose their ISP when, in fact, they were being herded into MSN. Worse yet, if the MSN icon was still on the desktop, the ICW did nothing more than launch the MSN setup application. That behavior has since been changed.
Now to summarize that: building mechanisms to prevent Windows from running browsers other than Internet Exploder is bad, not bundling alternative browsers while not preventing them from installing and running is good. The difference, I believe, falls directly into the argument of "equal opportunity" versus "equal outcome." In particular, preventing installation and operation of an alternative browser inflicts a loss of opportunity, whereas being required to bundle alternative browsers is the forced attrition of an equal outcome. And, as Richard stated, the average user will opt for the path of least resistance, anyway.
Speaking of bad analogies, comparing the necessity of a browser for communications comes no where near a high-powered audio or word processing suite. Neither of the later are requirements, and even so, the later of which is addressed by the simple editor WordPad. I have actually seen people using WordPad as their processor of choice: no Word, no WordPerfect, no Works, just plain WordPad. Equally as irrelevant is my hypothetical reaction to having a "free" version of a my product, which I would be developing for "free" in this case, bundled with an operating system. As is the comparison of browsers to the file system compression snafu of DOS 6.2.
I must also echo Mage's lament in regards to poor third-party applications which forcefully launch Internet Explorer when another browser is present and set as default. I deal with several of these personally and professionally. In most cases it is a minor annoyance, but an issue none the less.
Paris, because she still is not going to bundle your ex's vagoo when you start dating her.