Listen up! The end is near . . . for Internet Explorer (IE) and so-called “Legacy Edge” (the pre-Chromium version of MS’s current flagship browser), anyway. That news — and the accompanying graphic timeline shown as this story’s lead-in graphic — went public yesterday. It appeared in a Microsoft 365 blog post entitled Microsoft 365 apps say farewell to Internet Explorer 11 and Windows 10 sunsets Microsoft Edge Legacy. Let’s step back and unpack this information after a pause to reminisce.
What IE Meant to Me . . . and the Web
I’ve been working with HTML and web development, tools, and servers since 1993. To me, Internet Explorer was the real milestone announcing that the World Wide Web had truly arrived. Like so many others, I started out with NCSA Mosaic as my first real graphical browser, as it first went public in mid-to-late 1993. And when Marc Andreesen jumped ship from NCSA to build Netscape Navigator, I came along for that ride, too. But when Microsoft started offering Internet Explorer (IE) in August 1995 (the original version was purchased from Spyglass, something of a player in the Internet software market at the time) and emphasized its compatibility with Windows 95, I knew that the Web would henceforth become the dominant means for Internet access. And so it has remained, to this day.
Thus, while IE always had its shortcomings and deficiencies, IE was still a pretty big deal. There was even a time, in fact, when IE ruled the Web browser world from a truly dominant position (in 1999, it had an overwhelming 99% marketshare).
The version information for IE 11 still bears a 2015 copyright date, even now in 2020. That says a lot, right there.
And Now It’s Time to Bid Farewell
According to Microsoft 365 blog post, Microsoft Teams will cease support for IE 11 (the complete current IE version number is 11.450.19041.0, as shown in the preceding “About” info). By August 17, 2021 (one year from the date of the announcement) all “remaining Microsoft 365 apps and services will no longer support IE 11.” To explain things further, this means that “customers will have a degraded experience or will be unable to connect to Microsoft 365 apps and services on IE 11. For degraded experiences, new Microsoft 365 features will not be available or certain features may cease to work when accessing the app or service via IE 11.” Essentially, this is advance notice to IE 11 users that they must migrate to a newer (or different) browser on or before August 17, 2021, if they wish to keep working unimpaired and “get the most out of Microsoft 365.” This will be a big deal to many corporate and institutional users, who’ve built decades worth of infrastructure, applications, and services around Internet Explorer.
Personally, I don’t use IE much (if at all) any more. I haven’t done so for 2 or more years, since Edge really started to come into its own. And when the Chromium Edge version went public in January of this year, my occasional and sporadic use of IE mostly ceased. Hopefully, those companies and organizations that depend on IE will be able to manage the transition without too much expense, stress and hardship. We’ll see if the date holds, in the wake of “big customer” reactions to this news. I have a strong feeling that hitherto tentative and desultory explorations of Internet Explorer mode in the new Microsoft Edge are about to become a lot more focused and serious, as large-scale IE users really start to parse through what must change and what can be left alone.
Though MS hasn’t commented on this one way or the other, it will surely stop including IE in its release images for Windows 10 sometime soon. I just checked the latest Dev Channel build (20190) and it’s still “in there.” But I have to believe its days are numbered, and it will drop out of the image manifest sometime within the next year, too. We’ll have to keep an eye on that, eh?
What About Legacy Edge?
Legacy Edge was Microsoft’s first cut at a next-gen Web browser, built around its own code base and a new set of APIs and tools. It never really got the uptake that MS hoped or looked for, so it came as no suprise to the world when MS announced a second cut, based on Open Source Chromium browser code, would provide the basis for a “new Microsoft Edge.” MS said this re-work came in part from:
listening to our customers’ needs for world-class compatibility (including legacy app support), security, privacy, easy and unified manageability, and productivity. The result is a whole new Microsoft Edge from the inside out: a browser built on the Chromium open source engine with the latest in Microsoft enterprise capabilities. Since its release in January, millions of users have upgraded their home and work browsers to the new Microsoft Edge. Additionally, new devices and future Windows feature updates (starting with Windows 10, version 20H2) will contain the new Microsoft Edge.
Now that we’ve shipped the new Microsoft Edge, and upgraded most of our Windows 10 customers to the new browser, we’re ending support for the Microsoft Edge Legacy desktop app on March 9, 2021.
Microsoft’s technique for getting users off legacy Edge and onto new Microsoft Edge is simple “After March 9, 2021, the Microsoft Edge Legacy desktop app will not receive new security updates.” That should do the trick all right!
Life is about to get more interesting — and busy — for companies and organizations with apps and services that depend on IE. Hopefully, the new Edge “IE mode” will prevent too much disruption. But Microsoft also offers its App Assure promise to organizations that might find themselves impacted by the transition from Legacy Edge to New Edge. I’m not sure that the same offer holds for those transitioning from IE to new Edge, though.
MJF to the Rescue! [Note Added 2 Hrs Later]
OK then, I just got more information about how the retirement of IE 11 will be handled, courtesy of Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet. In a story entitled “Microsoft outlines its IE, legacy Edge phase-out timetable” she followed up on the M365 blog post with some pointed questions, and got some useful answers. Her clarification reads:
However, IE11 “isn’t going away,” officials said, as it is “a component of the Windows operating system,” and thus will only cease being supported when the version of Windows on which it is installed is no longer supported. Officials noted that “customers’ own legacy IE11 apps and investments will continue to work“ up until that point. But access to Microsoft 365 apps and services won’t work with IE11 after next August.
She goes onto explain that there’s still no telling “when the phase-out for IE11 will happen for everyone.” MJF asked that question, too, and got the usual MS deflection “At this time, we don’t have further details to share.” Interestingly, she also observes that “Chromium-based Edge cannot be uninstalled from Windows 10, even though Microsoft no longer considers it to be part of the operating system once a user installs it via Windows Update and/or gets an update for a manually-installed version of it.” Go figure!
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.