Last week's revelation that Microsoft would allow users and IT environments to remove Internet Explorer (IE) 8 from Windows 7 was just the tip of the iceberg: Later in the week, Microsoft confirmed the move and provided a list of other end user applications that will be removable in Windows 7, making this release of the OS far more customizable than its predecessors.
"We've received feedback that some users might prefer to run Windows without certain features," Microsoft senior vice president Steven Sinofsky wrote in a blog post. (Sinofsky is apparently contractually obligated to use the word "feedback" as often as possible now thank to recent criticisms that the company has developed Windows 7 in a vacuum.)
Microsoft has identified a number of applications and features that it will allow users to remove (or, really, "disable") in Windows 7 over and above what was available in Windows Vista. These include Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center, Windows DVD Maker, Internet Explorer 8, Windows Search, Handwriting Recognition, Windows Gadget Platform, Fax and Scan, and the XPS Viewer and related services.
While removing any of these features would make Windows 7 less functional, doing so also presumably removes the need to service those components. So if you were to remove, say, Windows Media Player, you would no longer need to apply fixes to that component in the future.
At a low level, of course, most of these components are not truly deleted from the system. Microsoft "stages" Windows 7 applications and features within the system so that if the user later decides to reinstall them they will not need the installation DVD. And from a developer's perspective, many of these applications and features expose programmable APIs that they can use to create their own software solutions. APIs that are needed in Windows and can be accessed by developers are still available in the OS even when the end user features have been removed.
In keeping with Microsoft's decision to favor simplicity over ease of use, these components will not be removable during Setup. That would make Setup less simple, because it would require an extra step for the user to interact with, while adding it would make Windows 7 easier to use, since the Windows Features applet required to make these changes after the fact is somewhat hidden inside of the OS.
These changes first appeared in Windows 7 build 7048, an interim pre-release version of the OS. Please refer to my SuperSite article, Windows 7 Build 7048 Notes, for more information about changes to Windows 7.