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.

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!

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.