The company plans to retire Internet Explorer 11 next year, putting it on the path to a long, slow lingering death as the company fully embraces Microsoft Edge.

Microsoft has spelt out its plans to retire the venerable Internet Explorer 11 (IE11) browser from widespread use in a little over a year. Sean Lyndersay, an Edge program manager, commented:

“The future of Internet Explorer on Windows 10 is in Microsoft Edge. With Microsoft Edge capable of assuming this responsibility… The Internet Explorer 11 desktop application will be retired and go out of support on June 15, 2022, for certain versions of Windows 10.”

The forced retirement of IE11 will not be all-inclusive, as several editions of Windows, including 10’s Long-term Support Channel (LTSC) and Windows Server, will be spared from the directive. Likewise, Microsoft will continue to secure IE’s Trident rendering engine, which is embedded in Windows and crucial to the running of Edge’s IE mode.

Because Microsoft had previously promised customers that IE11 would be supported as part of the three Windows 10 LTSC versions released so far the end-of-support order won’t be applied to them. That’s not to say the separate IE11 application will survive that long. Microsoft alluded to as much when it said that the LTSB/LSTC versions were “out of scope at the time of this announcement” (emphasis added) of the June 15, 2022, date.

Even IE11 running on Windows 7 will be supported longer than next June. Commercial customers who pay for the third year of Extended Security Updates (ESUs) will receive support for IE through the end of that contract, or until Jan. 10, 2023.

What’s most important to enterprises is that the June 2022 support deadline can be sidestepped by using Edge and its IE mode; that last calls up designated sites using IE’s Trident rather than Edge’s now-native Chromium. Businesses still wedded to aged internal sites and too-expensive-to-rewrite apps are to be pushed toward Edge and its baked-in IE mode. Not surprisingly, then, support for IE mode will run much longer, until 2029 for Windows 10 2019 LTSC and until May 2023 for Windows 10 Enterprise 20H2, which launched late last year.

Edge, launched in mid-2105 as part of Windows 10, was Microsoft’s attempt to stem the bleeding of browser share. That didn’t work. Even with Edge and IE combined, Microsoft’s share kept dropping. So Microsoft abandoned its own rendering and JavaScript engines and swapped in Google’s instead, relying on Chromium’s open-source nature, like other browsers before it, to become a clone of Chrome. Since then, Edge has edged up in share; as of April, it accounted for nearly an eighth of all browser activity.

It’s virtually certain that much of that growth has come from Microsoft’s best customers, the businesses, small and gigantic, that run on Windows. Some of those companies still required IE so that employees and partners could access old, very old in some cases, intranet sites and apps. IE mode made the back-and-forth between Edge and IE renderings, if not automatic at least configurable.

That was an advantage over Chrome when Google’s browser was adopted by IT administrators. Google had, of course, countered with what it dubbed “Legacy Browser Support,” or LBS, which was originally a browser add-on, then in 2019, integrated with Chrome itself. When faced with a URL designated as requiring IE, Chrome called up IE to paint that page. It was an inelegant solution that, unlike Edge, resulted in two open browsers.

The disappearance of IE11 means that Chrome won’t be able to handle the IE-dependent URLs and apps.

Last month, Google said that Chrome 90 could use LBS to open Edge in IE mode instead of opening IE11. Almost certainly, Microsoft gave Google a heads up that it was getting ready to ditch IE11 and leave Edge’s IE mode as the sole legacy solution.

The difference between then and now for Chrome and its LBS is significant. Users would not have done more with IE than they had to; it was old as Moses and crippled when compared to a modern browser. But with Edge, it’s going to be different. Once open, Edge may tempt Chrome users into staying with it, running it for more than rendering IE-reliant sites and apps. Edge may appeal to Chrome users enough, anyway, for some to wonder why they’re running two browsers when one will do.

Internet Explorer long outlived its usefulness and its sell-by date, technology-wise, wasn’t long after its October 2013 release. If not for Microsoft’s indulgence of its commercial customers and the company’s history of backward compatibility and support, IE should have vanished around the time Edge came on the scene. But if IE11’s demise helps out Edge, at least Internet Explorer succumbed for a good reason. Few browsers can say as much.

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