IE is Finally Gone in Windows 11… Or Is It?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you know that Microsoft has been telling everyone that Internet Explorer, the web browser that everyone seems to love to hate, but that nevertheless was the de facto standard web browser for nearly 20 years, is dead, gone, over and done with. Since 2016, Microsoft has been telling developers, including holdouts like those working for governments and large corporate intranets, to find themselves a new standard browser. Since its initial version of Microsoft Edge proved unsuitable as a replacement for Internet Explorer (meaning it didn’t support all the web technologies that Internet Explorer did), Microsoft announced a new Edge based on open source Chromium in 2018, developed it over the course of 2019 and released it in mid-January, 2020. At some point, an Internet Explorer Compatibility Mode was added to Edge, and now Microsoft is again touting Edge as a replacement for Internet Explorer. (I’ve used Edge in Internet Explorer Compatibility Mode for things that previously only worked in IE, including an Exchange Server 2013 Administration Console and several government sites, and it works.) And for the last year or so, Microsoft has been saying that Internet Explorer will be disappearing from desktop versions of Windows in the near future. Did Microsoft make good on this threat/promise in Winodws 11. Let’s find out.

When we open Windows 11’s list of all programs (click the Start button, then the small All Apps button towards the upper right), we see in short order that Internet Explorer is, indeed, missing:

IS is not in Win11's All Apps

Since there’s nothing unusual about software failing to appear in Windows’ (any version) list of all programs, though, let’s try a search:

IS Doesn't Appear in Program Search

Nope, no Internet Explorer here; just offers to extend the search to the Internet. How about if we check Settings / Apps & Features?

IE is not in Apps & Features

So, it would seem that as far as Windows 11 is concerned, Internet Explorer is not installed. But just to be thorough, let’s check the legacy Programs and Features from the legacy Control Panel. (Clicking start and the either searching for Control Panel or appwiz.cpl gets us there.)

IE is not in Programs and Features

But wait… in previous versions of Windows, you could install or uninstall Internet Explorer by clicking on “Turn Windows features on or off” from here. Let’s try that:

IE is not in Windows Features

Wow, it sure looks like after all these years, the ol’ buzzard is finally gone, doesn’t it? But just for kicks and giggles, I opened up File Explorer and took a look behind the scenes, in C:\Program Files, and look what I found:

IE is in Program Files

Why, those look like the Internet Explorer executable files, right where they’ve been since Windows XP! So it would seem that Internet Explorer is not quite as gone as I originally thought. But when I double-click the main executable file, iexplorer.exe, something very interesting happens: instead of the familiar Internet Explorer web browser opening up, all I get is a new tab in Microsoft Edge. Now, if we look back at the file listing above, we see another curiosity: File Explorer reports that iexplore.exe file was last modified on 10/21/2021, which happens to be the day that I installed my Windows 11 upgrade. When I look at the same folder on my desktop PC, which runs the latest build of Windows 10, iexplore.exe has a date of 9/14/2021, which appears to be part of a cumulative update that was installed on 9/15. That’s a newer file than I expected to find, but Internet Explorer opens right up and runs perfectly on my desktop. Microsoft announced some time ago that at some point, they would make Internet Explorer redirect to Microsoft Edge, and it appears that in Windows 11, they have done just that.

My laptop came with Windows 10 Build 20H2 on it, and I updated it to Build 21H1 before installing Windows 11. Prior to the Windows 11 installation, Internet Explorer most definitely ran. At this time, I don’t know if the legacy Internet Explorer files are used for anything (such as Edge’s IE Compatibility Mode) or if they can be safely deleted; a quick search turned up no information about this. I would be very interested in seeing if a computer with a clean Windows 11 installation, rather than an upgrade, has any legacy Internet Explorer files on it. As of this writing, I have yet to see a clean Windows 11 installation, as I have no compatible computers on which to try one, and I may not see a new computer that shipped with Windows 11 for a month or more. I will have to revisit this in a later post.

Don’t Get Phished While You’re Out Surfing!

A significant chunk of my weekend was spent helping a home client deal with a serious data breach. It’s not clear if they got phished, fell for clickbait that took them to a compromised site or fell prey to some other ploy, but they somehow ran a bit of malicious code that deviously (meaning using methods that go unnoticed by mainstream anti-malware software) dropped the portable version of a popular remote access program on the computer and then set a scheduled task to run it after a period of inactivity, allowing the criminals to look through the files on the computer at will.

This morning, I received an e-mail from PCMag.com that, serendipitously, included an article about how to spot malicious web pages. As much as I enjoy writing about the technological ups and downs that I encounter as an IT consultant, Neil J. Rubenking’s career as an author of technical articles dates back to before my own career began, and he said it better than I ever could. Consider this article a must-read! https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/how-to-avoid-phishing-scams

Finding Stuff in Windows 11

Windows Search

One of the first things you notice when you display the Windows 11 Start Menu is that while it’s still there – unlike Windows 8, where it wasn’t – it’s a departure from Windows 10, which brought back something resembling the venerable Windows 7 Start Menu. Gone are your categories of tiles, and gone, or at least hidden, is the alphabetical list of programs. They’ve been replaced with a collection of pinned apps and a curious section labeled “Recommended”. We will explore those in future posts. Right now, though, a user new to Windows 11 could be forgiven for thinking, “How the $#^@& do I find anything in this new Windows?!” Fortunately, Windows Search is still here, it’s prominently featured (I’ve circled it in the lead screen shot, above), and it’s better than ever.

Windows Search has been around a long time – about 20 years, in fact. It was first added as an optional update in Windows XP, but that early edition of Windows Search was balky, slow, not very effective and tended to cause the whole computer to get sluggish. But with every version of Windows since then, Windows Search has become better and more tightly integrated. Many people never discovered that they could click the Windows 7 Start button, begin typing without pointing the mouse at anything and find menu items, Control Panel applets and software. That was too bad, because it brought much of the power of Windows 7 right to your fingertips. It was invaluable in Windows 8, which had an annoying habit of hiding frequently-used tiles in unintuitive places. I still use the click-Start-and-search trick constantly on my Windows 10 desktop PC, where it does a decent job of finding data files as well as software. My experience with it so far on my laptop suggests that it’s one of the handful of real under-the-hood improvements in Windows 11.

While searching for software this way in Windows 10 is usually faster than scrolling the alphabetical app list in the Start menu when I need a program that isn’t pinned to Start or the Taskbar, I’ve often found that newly installed software can take several days to get indexed by Windows Search, and, some software, particularly infrequently-used programs, just never seems to show up at all. It does a better job of indexing data files that are stored in common locations, such as Documents or Pictures. And depending on how busy the computer is, searches can sometimes take awhile, and occasionally fail. But all this seems to work like clockwork in Windows 11!

Here, I’ve done a search for the Intel Driver & Support Assistant, a program I don’t run frequently from the Start menu. (It auto-launches in the background, and I usually launch it via the Taskbar Notification Area.) By the time I finish typing “intel” I see:

Searching for a program

Similarly, here’s a search for a spare computer parts Excel workbook that I’ve never actually opened on this laptop before. As with the program search, I’m barely done typing the first word of the title when Windows finds it for me:

Searching for a data file

Windows Search in Windows 11 is so good at finding everything you need that you could probably use the new operating system productively without learning how to navigate the new interface at all!

You Can Always Reinstall Your Software… or can you?

One frustration that clients face when recovering from a computer failure or moving to a new computer is reinstalling their productivity software. (Productivity software is the software you use to do your job: for example, Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud.) This is a minor frustration compared with what it takes to recover data that wasn’t backed up, but it’s still hard to be productive when you have all your data but you’ve lost the software that you use to create and maintain it.

Once software is installed on a computer, the installation source and any license numbers are out of sight, out of mind for most people. Thus, they tend to misplace the files and information they used to install it, despite warnings from software companies to hold onto them. Today, I am going to explain why it’s important to make sure you keep those things safely stored and documented.

Many computer users fail to understand that while data can be easily copied from one computer to another, most software cannot be, at least on Windows computers. Software that runs under Windows typically includes common files that are stored in the Windows folders, other common files that are stored in shared folders within the Program Files or Program Files (x86) folders, configuration files stored in subfolders of the invisible ProgramData folder and the user’s invisible AppData folder, and Windows Registry settings. Because of this, most software made for Windows computers must be properly installed within Windows in order to run. There are utilities that purport to transfer software from one copy of Windows to another, but I’ve never seen one that works well. There is simply no substitute for making sure your installation source and license information are available.

“Just make full image backups!”, I hear some people answer. (A full image backup is a snapshot of absolutely everything stored on a computer, which, when restored, transforms the computer to exactly the way it was at the time the backup was made.) Unfortunately, while this can work around the problem in some cases, it’s not a cure-all. Full image backups take a long time to make, relative to data-only backups, and also consume much larger amounts of storage space. It’s expensive to make and keep full image backups of all your computers locally, and generally impractical to make them online. And restoring a full image backup is really most helpful after you’ve repaired a failed computer. Using them to load up a new computer often results in system instability. (The “restore to dissimilar hardware” feature found in some image backup software is best for restoring a backed up computer temporarily a new computer, just long enough to get everything you need off of it, and then restoring the new computer back to the operating system that came with it.) Full image backups are also not much help when a single program becomes corrupt. Who wants to restore an entire full image backup just to regain access to Adobe Acrobat Pro, for example?

For the installation sources, I recommend using both of the following methods: First, keep any original media, such as CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives and downloaded files. (Downloaded files can be stored on whatever media are most convenient for you.) If the media didn’t come in an easily stored box, folio or envelope labeled with its name and version, then put it in something that can be so labeled. You can designate a drawer, cabinet shelf or box to hold these. Second, for redundancy and convenience, you should also copy your original media. (It’s completely legal to do this for the purpose of making sure you don’t lose your software. It’s only illegal if you share your copies with someone else.) If you have a network server or network attached storage device (NAS), you can create a software installations share on it and copy your installation media to subfolders within that share. Again, be sure that one way or another, you preserve the software titles, versions, system requirements and any special installation instructions for each program.

Similarly, you should keep at least two copies of your license keys on hand. The first should be kept in printed form with your original installation media. For example, if you purchased QuickBooks on CD, be sure you store one copy of the license key for QuickBooks with the CD. For the second copy, I recommend a document or spreadsheet into which you transcribe your license keys — and be sure to double-check your transcriptions. Your document or spreadsheet can be stored with the copies you made of your original installation media for your software.

Nowadays, many software titles are distributed electronically. You purchase the software online, and the company e-mails you the license information and a link to download the installation files. It’s fine to keep track of the license keys by keeping the original e-mails in an easy-to-find folder in your e-mail, if you like. However, the software companies may not keep the installers available for download in perpetuity, so it’s a good idea to keep a copy or two of the downloaded installers.

One final note: Some software, like QuickBooks, is provided to you when you purchase it, and the software company periodically sends out updates for it during its lifecycle. As with original installers, though, the software company may not keep the updates available forever. That can be a problem for software like QuickBooks, in which updates may alter the data files and render them unusable with older builds of the software. So, if the updates are provided via download, it’s a good idea to keep copies of the updates with the original installers. (Some updates are just that – updates – while others are free-standing installers that will install the latest build of a particular program.)

Unfortunately, there are some software packages that download and apply their updates autonomously, without the company providing you a download to install. If you have to reinstall a program like that too long past what the software company considers end-of-life for that program, then you may have no choice but to purchase the latest version. If your company depends on any such software, it’s best to be proactive about making sure you’re always using a supported version, even if that means buying and upgrading to the newest version every few years.

Properly maintaining your software library will make the difference between a smooth computer restoration or replacement, or suffering serious loss of productivity when equipment fails or must be replaced. It makes sense to take care of this before an emergency arises. If you don’t feel up to doing it yourself, then please don’t hesitate to hire Lebowitz IT Services to help you organize your software installers and license keys.

Connecting Windows 11 to WiFi

Windows 11 WiFi Glyph

Windows 11’s user interface changes – dare I call it a face lift? – improves some things, while making (or leaving) other things counter-intuitive. Connecting to a wireless network decidedly falls into the latter category. If you mostly use a computer with a wired connection, or your computer pretty much stays at home, then it may be quite awhile before you notice how this has changed. But if you carry a laptop with you frequently and often have to connect to different wireless networks, you’ll run into confusion pretty quickly.

Please note that this is a “how-to” post, not a troubleshooting post. If you know how to connect to a wifi network with Windows 11 but are having difficulty doing so, then your best bet is to go to our Contact page and request a service call. (Or you could go back to good ol’ Google and keep searching…)

As you can see from the introductory screen shot on this post, the first change to the wi-fi interface is actually a good one. In Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, the wi-fi icon in the Taskbar Notification area looked like the cellular signal strength bars that people were used to seeing on their mobile phones. In Windows 10, Microsoft changed that icon to something similar to the wi-fi signal strength indicator seen on Mac computers and smartphones, but they rotated it 45 degrees to the left so it appeared to sit on its side. Since I know of no other milieu in which the wi-fi symbol looks like that, I began describing it to clients as a “quarter of a target”. The symbol for “no connection” was even less intuitive – a line art image of a globe. (There is a subtle difference between the “No Internet” and “No Connection at All” versions of the globe, but most people fail to see it.) Unfortunately, the “no connection” icons haven’t changed noticeably for Windows 11, but the wi-fi connection now looks like the ones found in Mac OS and on most cell phones, with the slice of the target standing on its point, allegedly resembling radio waves coming off of the top of an antenna. I don’t know if the latter interpretation qualifies as intuitive, but at least it’s consistent with other devices now, and thus should be less confusing.

As with Windows 10, when you want to connect Windows 11 to a wireless network, click on the network glyph in the Taskbar Notification Area:

No Connection network glyph

So far, so good, or at least so familiar. Unfortunately, what appears next is not:

Notification area status dialog

The pop-up that appears is actually a combined status dialog box. Starting from the top row, left corner, we have wifi status, Bluetooth status, and the last-used VPN, if any. On the second row, we see Airplane Mode, which toggles all networking on or off; Focus Assist, which we’ll ignore for now (there will be a future blog post on this), and Accessibility, which we will similarly ignore for now. Below that we have a brightness control (if you’re using a laptop or all-in-one with software-controlled brightness) and volume control.

Windows 11 leaves the uninitiated wondering what to do next. The most intuitive thing to do is click on the wifi symbol in the upper left, but all that does is turn the wifi radio off. (Click it again to turn it back on.) What you actually need to do is click on the “>” in the right half of the button with the wifi symbol.

Connect to wifi

Doing that brings up a the familiar list of wireless networks. From this point on, the procedure is the same as in Windows 10: choose the network you want, enter the password when prompted and Windows 11 connects right up.

What’s a Good Brand Of…?

Random tech logos

One of the most common questions people ask me is “What’s a good brand of ______?” You can fill in the blank with whatever technology product you can imagine buying, but my answer is nearly always the same: “There is no good brand of ______. All companies that sell these products make some that I feel comfortable recommending and some that I don’t.” (That answer is not entirely truthful. There are a few manufacturers that make nothing I’m willing to recommend. But I’m not talking about them today.) People don’t like to hear this answer, because it requires them to pay attention to details that they would rather not have to think about. In today’s post, I’m going to tell you why I won’t simply recommend brands when requested. It all comes down to two concepts that I’m sure marketing professionals have more polite phrases for, but I call them Brand Dilution and Brand Prostitution.

Brand Dilution is what happens when a company has a brand that has a reputation for something that people like and respect, but then they begin using that brand to sell products that don’t measure up. For example, in the mid-1980s, Toshiba began producing laptops. Toshiba wasn’t the first company to make laptops, but their laptops were such an improvement on what had been available up to that point that they’re described by many industry pundits as the world’s first mass-market laptops. Toshiba soon earned a reputation for making laptops that were reliably sturdy, powerful, dependable and easier to live with than most others. (Note that we’re talking about a time in which a 16-pound laptop was considered portable, and 45 minutes of runtime per battery charge was considered long!) People came to expect that any laptop bearing the Toshiba brand would be a high-quality laptop.

But after a number of years, Toshiba introduced laptops that were cheaper, both in price and quality. Imagine my surprise the first time I encountered one of those: it was slow to the point of hanging constantly, and it felt downright rickety in my hands. I couldn’t understand why Toshiba would put their highly-respected name on such a piece of junk! The owner of the laptop couldn’t understand it either, and, not surprisingly, that was the last Toshiba branded computer she ever bought. Over time, I learned that if one wanted a high-quality Toshiba laptop, one had to shop for one of their Tecra or Portege models, which could only be found in places where businesses purchased computer equipment, and not in the big-box stores that had become the primary sellers of consumer electronics. But to people who don’t buy computer equipment on a regular basis, that distinction is invisible. It didn’t take long before most people came to regard Toshiba laptops as junk, and eschewed them in favor of other brands. It didn’t take the big-box retailers much longer than that to realize they weren’t selling many Toshiba laptops, after which they stopped carrying them.

Toshiba never managed to repair their brand image as far as laptops were concerned. They eventually sold off their laptop division to Sharp Corporation, which now produces Satellite Pro, Portege, Tecra and E models under the DynaBook brand. But I have never seen a DynaBook brand laptop in person, and I don’t know where to buy one other than online at the DynaBook web site. (That’s the danger of diluting your brand: you can damage it beyond hope of repair.)

Brand Prostitution is similar, but it happens when a company is indiscriminate about licensing use of their brand name by other companies. The harm to the brand is done when a licensee produces inferior products that are then sold under the brand name, thus compromising the brand’s reputation for high quality. For example, Verbatim was a company that became well-known for producing high-quality diskettes in the 1970s and ’80s, and since then has expanded into other storage products, including recordable CD and DVD blanks as well as flash storage media, like USB flash drives and SD cards. But Verbatim, the company, was acquired by Mitsubishi in 1990, and by 1994, it was nothing more than a brand name owned by Mitsubishi, and, most recently, CMC. Apparently, the brand wasn’t important to Mitsubishi, because they became quite cavalier about the products sold under the Verbatim label. Some Verbatim-branded products are made in factories owned by their parent company, and are excellent. Others are made under license by factories owned by other companies, and the quality, in my experience, is inconsistent. So, if you were to ask me, “Are Verbatim brand USB flash drives good?”, I would have to answer, “I really don’t know. It depends on who made the ones in the package you bought.”

My perception is that both Brand Dilution and Brand Prostitution are common in nearly all market sectors nowadays, and the result is that the consistency of product quality within brands is quite low. That’s why I refuse to make blanket brand recommendations. If I make a product recommendation, it will most likely be for specific models, and then only because my personal experience with those models has been positive.