So, I can confirm that this is true: there will be an E edition for every Windows 7 SKU that removes IE and will be made available in Europe only. Apparently, CNET got ahold of a leaked memo somehow:
Microsoft plans to remove Internet Explorer from the versions of Windows 7 that it ships in Europe, CNET News has learned.
"To ensure that Microsoft is in compliance with European law, Microsoft will be releasing a separate version of Windows 7 for distribution in Europe that will not include Windows Internet Explorer," the software maker said in the memo. "Microsoft will offer IE8 separately and free of charge and will make it easy and convenient for PC manufacturers to preinstall IE 8 on Windows 7 machines in Europe if they so choose. PC manufacturers may choose to install an alternative browser instead of IE 8, and has always been the case, they may install multiple browsers if they wish."
The browser-less versions, dubbed Windows 7 "E", will be distributed in all members of the European Economic Area as well as Croatia and Switzerland. In addition, Microsoft will strip the browser from the Europe-only "N" versions of Windows 7, which also removes the Windows Media Player from the operating system and is the result of another move by Europe's antitrust authorities.
In contrast with the "N" version, though, Microsoft will not also sell a full-featured version of Windows that includes the browser.
"Microsoft will not offer for distribution in the European territory the Windows 7 product versions that contain IE, which are intended for distribution in the rest of the world," Microsoft said in the memo. "This will apply to both OEM and Retail versions of Windows 7 products."
For computer makers that want it, Microsoft will offer a free "IE 8 pack" that allows them to add the browser back in. It's a little more complicated for consumers who buy a retail copy of Windows 7. Because the operating system lacks a browser, there's not a direct way to go to Microsoft's Web site to download one. Microsoft aims to make it as easy as possible for folks in Europe to get the browser, though, and plans to offer it via CD, FTP and retail channels, according to a person a familiar with the situation.
"Microsoft is focused on ensuring that Windows 7 is a successful worldwide release available to the broadest number of consumers, including those in Europe," The software maker said in the memo. "We believe that we need to release these E versions to address the preliminary legal views communicated to us in the EU. We are informing OEMs of these plans now so that we can work together to meet our shared goal to have Windows 7 broadly available for a holiday launch."
The software maker says in the memo that it is only stripping the browser from Windows 7 and won't do the same with older operating systems, or with the virtualized version of Windows XP that is part of the free "XP mode" download.