This really is a surprise move, first revealed by CNet, and later on confirmed by Microsoft itself. The company will ship the same versions of Windows 7 in Europe as it does in the rest of the world, with the difference being that none of them include Internet Explorer.
This is obviously a response to the EU antitrust investigation currently under way against Microsoft. The EU was investigating whether or not Microsoft had abused its monopoly position in the operating system market to crush the competition in the browser market. With today's announcement, Microsoft makes sure there will be no future clashes with the EU.
The company emphasizes that the removal of Internet Explorer 8 from Windows 7 will not negatively effect the rest of the operating system in any way: all applications will still work. This solution wasn't Microsoft's first choice, but for now, it's the best thing they could do to avoid any fines, the company claims. Of course, OEMs will be able to add whatever browser they please to their installation images, which means that computers in shops might still ship with Internet Explorer by default.
It does raise a serious issue: browser makers will have to find other ways to get their browsers on users' machines. Microsoft will make a free IE8 Pack available to OEMs, and will offer IE8 through CD, FTP, and retail channels as well. Competing browsers will have to do the same.
I'm personally not particularly happy with this decision, as it will make the computing experience less ideal. I hate Internet Explorer, but I'd much rather have it available so I can quickly download a decent browser that I do like. I would have preferred it if IE8 had simply been user-removable - as in, totally removable.