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.

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