Simulating Internet Explorer retirement scenario

A little bit less than a year ago Microsoft announced that they are going to retire Internet Explorer 11 browser on June 15, 2022. Which is now almost 4 months away. They have also since posted an FAQ detailing all the steps and which versions of Windows can still have IE for some time (LTSC and Server). And explained that IE engine itself is not going away until at least 2029 for supported versions of Windows 10 and 11, it is just the browser itself that is going to be disabled. They also made advancements in Site List for IE mode management and made it possible to do it completely via Microsoft 365 console. IE mode is used in Edge to utilize IE engine to render older websites and systems that still rely on old technology. It is when i remembered about a new group policy they added in January of 2021 that enabled administrators to disable IE11. Which in turn allows to simulate disabling Internet Explorer before its official retirement date.

After updating admx templates in our environment i gave this new GPO setting a try. It is located in Computer Configuration/Administrative Templates/Windows Components/Internet Explorer and is called Disable Internet Explorer 11 as a standalone browser.

Setting is pretty straightforward. You enable it and then can choose if you want to notify the user when they try to run Internet Explorer. You can either always notify them, just once or never. I am not sure what will be the behavior once Microsoft disables IE in June. I expect that they might show a notification once. I decided to try without a message as i was testing only on my own machine.

After enabling the setting and running gpupdate command it was applied almost immediately. A few seconds later i have tried to open Internet Explorer shortcut on my desktop (which i copied a minute before after searching in Start). The shortcut disappeared and Edge opened instead. When i tried to search for Internet Explorer in Start menu, there were no results. In the articles they say that icon should still remain on the taskbar, if it was pinned. I haven’t tested that. But i have found iexplore.exe and tried to run it. Still Edge was opened. So, it worked. IE was completely disabled on my system.

There was one side effect though. Every time i logged in with my user it would open a blank Edge window. It only happened with my main user, not with another less used test account. It didn’t happen for a few teammates who agreed to test this setting. It probably was some bug in Edge or Windows as after a week or so it stopped doing this (assuming after Edge or Windows got updated).

Later i have tried to disable this setting on my system by removing PC from a group that had this policy applied to, running gpupdate and even restarting the computer. Edge was still opening when trying to run iexplore.exe or URL shortcuts. I was able though to go to Settings > Apps > Default apps and set Internet Explorer as default browser and change default app for .url extension to just Internet Browser. Then IE started working again.

Aside a few quirks this setting is a good way to simulate retirement scenario before the final date and work out incompatibilities before you have no way back. Personally, i have tested the scenario with URL shortcuts on the desktop that users currently open with IE. With disabled IE shortcuts open in Edge and if IE mode is setup for such websites it automatically loads it in IE mode, so this works pretty transparently for the users. I have also checked whether Edge reads MHT files properly (GPMC reports, Problem Step Recorder output files), which they recently added support for. Usually they open in Internet Explorer. With IE disabled they automatically opened in Edge and i didn’t see any problems with them.

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