Microsoft Makes Changes to Internet Explorer on Windows 10. Removes IE11 Branding

Three significant changes are being made to Microsoft Internet Explorer in the latest development builds of Windows 10. In this article, we will, Insha’Allah, take a look at these changes as well as some of other significant moves the company has been making recently to drastically reduce the overall reliance on Internet Explorer and encourage Windows users still using the aging browser to permanently move to Microsoft Edge.

Changes to Internet Explorer in the Latest Builds of Windows 10

Users testing (or “flighting” as Microsoft likes to call it) pre-release builds of Windows 10 version 21H1 in the Dev channel of the Windows Insider program will notice a few differences in Internet Explorer, as compared to the stable, retail, versions of Windows 10.

Visual Changes and the Removal of IE 11 Branding

Internet Explorer Loses Its IE11 Version and Branding in Latest Windows 10 Dev Builds

The first change is the least impactful but, ironically, is the biggest visual change to the browser in years, which isn’t saying much, given that we only had less than a handful of minor changes to IE in the last five years. In the most recent pre-release builds of Windows, from what I can observe, the “IE11” branding is no more. If you are on one of these builds of Windows, there is no way for you to know that the version of Internet Explorer that installed on your PC is version 11 unless you already knew it beforehand. This is because nowhere in the operating system does it make mention of “Internet Explorer 11” or IE11. Even if you go to the “About” screen of IE, all you get is the standard “About Windows” dialogue box (i.e., winver.exe) sporting the “Internet Explorer” name and icon. You no longer get the version number of the browser nor the patch version applied (traditionally referred to as “update version” in the IE’s About dialog box). What is displayed on the screen is only the build number of Windows 10 itself. As far as Windows is concerned, IE is now an internal component—just like MS Paint or Command Prompt—and, therefore, does not need a version number. It is no longer considered its app. Take a look at the screenshots below, which compares what the About dialogue box looks like on the most current stable release of Windows 10 compared to the latest Insider builds of the OS.

The following screenshot shows the “About Internet Explorer” dialog box in the most recent stable release of Windows 10, as of the time of this writing. As you can see, the Windows 8 era IE logo is still present, and the browser still refers to itself as version 11.

“About Internet Explorer” Dialog Box in Windows 10 20H2

Changes to Features and Functionality

The next two changes in the latest flighting releases of Windows are not as visually apparent but are certainly more impactful—though to what degree could be debatable.

Uninstalling IE No Longer Possible (Update)

Update: The ability to uninstall Internet Explorer from the system has since returned in the latest dev builds of Windows 10 as of February 2021. When I originally wrote this article in December 2020, the ability to uninstall IE was clearly absent, as you can see below in the screenshot I took of the “Windows Features”, aka “Add or Remove Features” dialog box at the time. Whether this was a bug or an intentional move on Microsoft’s part that has since been reversed is unclear. Microsoft has made no comments with regards to this.

Ability to Uninstall Internet Explorer Absent in Dev Builds of Windows 10 (Note: IE can once again be uninstalled in more recent builds of Win10 released since the time of this writing.)

The first of the next two major changes I am noticing in the “fresh off the oven” builds of Windows is what I consider to be a potentially significant change for some users, as it takes away something that we have been able to do in Windows for more than a decade! And that is the ability to uninstall Internet Explorer from Windows. I discovered this while adjusting some of the installed optional components on my PC using the “Turn Windows Features on or off” dialog box. Once I noticed that I hadn’t come across the term “Internet Explorer” at all during my endeavor, I assumed I was looking at the wrong place to uninstall IE (though I was pretty sure this is where you uninstall IE from). And sure enough, when I checked the same dialog box on a laptop running the latest stable release of Windows 10, the option to uninstall Internet Explorer was there, clear as day.

The “Windows Features” dialog box still includes the ability to uninstall IE11 in Windows 10 20H2 Release

It is unclear as to why Microsoft suddenly removing the option to uninstall IE, especially as they seem keen on getting all of its users moved away from the browser as fast as possible. If you or I don’t have to worry about legacy line of business apps, we can easily live without the browser. And I can confidently say that I have had IE uninstalled on my main PC for many months now without having come across a single app compatibility issue. Removing unused components and software not only makes your system run more efficiently but also reduces the attack surfaces that zero-day vulnerabilities can take advantage of. So, Microsoft’s sudden decision to force everyone to keep IE installed is curious at the very least. The next change, however, is not as sudden and out of the blue as this one.

Death of Adobe Flash Player

The third and final is one that has been announced well in advance by Microsoft and should be expected. Adobe Flash Player is no longer integrated into the browser. This isn’t all that surprising given that Adobe announced that support for Flash would end in 2020, which was followed by all the major browser vendors announcing their plans to phase out the plugin by the end of that same year. Microsoft began including Flash Player as part of Windows starting with Windows 8 to minimize security vulnerabilities and compatibility issues—right in line with what Google had been doing for years with its browser, Google Chrome. That was more than eight years ago. And now, Microsoft silently pulled the plug on the ancient plugin (pun intended 🙂). This final nail in the coffin for Flash could potentially be painful for the ever-shrinking number of people still relying on certain obscure sites and/or legacy web applications that stubbornly refuse to move to any of the modern standards that have come about in the last twenty years!

Other Significant Changes Made to IE in 2020

These changes are not the only changes made with IE this year. Just last month, Microsoft made a major announcement on how the company will urge its users to move off IE and to Microsoft Edge. According to Microsoft, going forward, users attempting to visit many modern, popular, websites using Internet Explorer will be automatically redirected to Microsoft Edge, by opening the site in a new tab in the company’s Chromium-based browser. To be clear, this will not be the case for every website a user tries to visit in IE. Rather IE will automatically open those websites in Edge that are have known compatibility issues or otherwise degraded user experiences on IE due to its increasing lack of support for the latest web standards. And earlier this year, Microsoft shipped “Internet Explorer Mode”, which enables the use of IE’s rendering engine from within Microsoft Edge to ensure that IT and business users can use a single browser for both legacy and modern web applications. 

The Silver Lining

Things haven’t been all bad for Internet Explorer in the last few years. IE, surprisingly, did get very minor updates and improvements here and there, as rare as they are. Even over a year after IE11 launched, Microsoft made lots of improvements to its F12 developer tools, and in the years following the debut of Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer did get re-designed “New Tab” page, new UI elements on the tab bar and in context menus to open websites in Microsoft Edge, and support for important new security standards, like TLS 1.3. But these improvements were few and far between, with the browser’s relevancy long past years ago.

It is hard to believe that it has been more than half a decade since Microsoft officially retired Internet Explorer in favor of Microsoft Edge, which was first released to the public in August of 2015 as part of Windows 10. In the years that followed, Microsoft took little steps here and there to further take away the attention from this aging browser from their flagship desktop operating system. But IE isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, for better or for worse, as Microsoft’s policy and approach to backward compatibility all but ensured IE’s continued existence in some form in Windows desktops as long as there is a Windows desktop.