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Microsoft Recommends IE 11 Upgrades To Meet Its Browser End of Life Deadline

Microsoft is recommending that its older Internet Explorer browsers be upgraded to IE 11 first before "uninstalling" them to meet the Jan. 12 end-of-support deadline.

Organizations running older IE browsers are facing a deadline tomorrow on Jan. 12, which is when "extended support" will end for many of Microsoft's older browser versions, such as IE 8, IE 9 and IE 10. Some of those IE users will get a notice in the form of browser tab, prompting them to upgrade.

The loss of extended support means that these browsers will no longer get security updates from Microsoft, a potential risk. However, the loss of support depends on the underlying Windows operating system used, so IE 9 on Windows Vista continues to be supported, for instance. The nuances of this policy are explained in this article.

Upgrade to IE 11 First
Some organizations and individuals may decide to just uninstall IE 8, IE 9 or IE 10 to avoid the potential security risks after Jan. 12 -- but not so fast, Microsoft is saying. It's better to upgrade to IE 11 first before making that move, the company explained, in a blog post late last week.

It turns out that the IE browser brings with it a bunch of software components that are used by the operating system for various purposes. Simply uninstalling IE 8, IE 9 or IE 10 without upgrading to IE 11 first means that machines potentially won't have the most current IE Dynamic-Link Library (DLL) components in place to support those ancillary components, according to the blog post.

For instance, Microsoft explained that "the Web Browser control (IEFrame.dll) is the entry point and it loads the other DLLs," which include useful components such as "MSHTML.dll, URLMon.dll, and WinInet.dll." If an upgrade to IE 11 hasn't been done first, then some of those components might not get serviced with the latest updates.

Here's how Microsoft explained this chicken-and-egg kind of scenario:

After January 12, 2016, only the most current version of IE will receive security updates. Therefore, if you aren't upgraded to the current version of IE, you won't be able to apply the current security updates. This could result in some Windows components not being serviced. To ensure applications using components (e.g. Web Browser control) are fully patched, update to the latest version of IE and apply future cumulative IE updates.

Moreover, by uninstalling IE, organizations and individuals aren't actually removing it. This action just hides the browser's user interface, according to Microsoft's explanation:

When you remove IE from "Windows Features" by unchecking the selection box, IE isn't actually removed from the PC. All of the system components remain for use by the operating system and other applications. The web browser application (IExplore.exe) is "hidden" and not removed.

So that's why Microsoft is recommending an upgrade to IE 11 first. It'll upgrade those underlying system components.

Of course, if an organization is bothering to upgrade to IE 11, then it might as well try Microsoft's Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer. It's designed to permit organizations use the IE 11 browser but it will switch to using older IE browser technologies when there's a need to maintain compatibility with intranet sites or older Web apps. Microsoft explains that approach and what happens with the Jan. 12 deadline more generally at this page.

The Leading Edge
Microsoft has found that about 70 percent of people were using IE 11 six months ago, according to Chris Jackson, Microsoft's worldwide lead for application compatibility, in a video series discussion. He explained that Microsoft made its decision to deprecate its older browsers with the Jan. 12 deadline not to take away user choice but to clarify matters -- namely because third-party software vendors didn't know which browser to support. He suggested IT pros could use Microsoft's Enterprise Site Discovery Toolkit for Internet Explorer to better determine which IE browser technologies were being used in their organizations. He also recommended using Microsoft's Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer tool, noting that the "compatibility view" functionality in IE 8 will still work when using this tool.

Jackson admitted that the Microsoft Edge browser was built because Microsoft simply could not keep up with the pace of Web changes with its IE browser. The Edge browser is Microsoft's attempt to respond in a more agile way, although it's not fully built out. For instance, Edge still lacks plug-in support. Jackson explained that Microsoft wants to build the right plug-in extensibility into Edge and so has been cautious about rolling it out.

Edge does not have a compatibility strategy with older IE technologies, going forward, Jackson admitted. For instance, Edge has no support for the Silverlight plug-in. It is IE 11's role to provide that kind of legacy support, he explained.

Jackson offered a cautionary note, though, for organizations expecting to go all-in for IE 11 and ignore Edge. He said that IE 11 is "a dead end." It won't have tablet and phone support like Edge in the near future. Microsoft would prefer organizations to use Edge as their default browser, he said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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