Internet Explorer can be Uninstalled from Windows 7

Contributing Editor

remove IE from Windows 7There are several reports circulating the web that the latest beta version of Windows 7 will allow end users to uninstall Internet Explorer 8.0 (see blog articles here and here).

It should be noted that the feature appeared in Windows 7 build 7048. This has not been publicly released from Microsoft, but is available as an illegal pirated copy on certain file-sharing sites (obviously, SitePoint does not condone downloading, sharing, or installing the product). In the Control Panel’s “Turn Windows features on or off” dialog, Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) appears as one of the items you can remove.

Turn Windows features on or off

However, Microsoft engineer and blogger Jack Mayo has now confirmed that IE and several other Windows components can be removed from Windows 7.

Removing IE has not been possible since Windows 95. However, the option does not fundamentally affect the operating system – it primarily removes iexplore.exe (although some software re-configuration and two reboots are required). Whilst this will prevent anyone using the browser, the main Internet Explorer code base and libraries can still be accessed by Windows and third-party applications.

The uninstall options appear to be quick fixes to Windows 7 (although, to be fair to Microsoft, they could have planned it months ago). However, the ‘feature’ has appeared shortly after the European Commission ruling that could have forced Microsoft to offer alternative browsers within Windows. Microsoft is yet to respond to Commission’s preliminary conclusions, but offering an IE8 uninstall option is likely to solve a number of potential legal problems.

Will the IE uninstall stop Microsoft’s ongoing legal battles in Europe and other territories? Will it help or hinder Windows users and web developers?

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  • http://xslt2processor.sourceforge.net boen_robot

    I don’t think this is anything new from what was in XP – users now (again) have the ability to remove IE shortcuts, but not IE itself.

    It is worth describing the details of “remove” since this too is a place where there are engineering and customer decisions to be made. We’ve already seen one decision which is to make sure we keep the features staged for future use so that a DVD is not required. A second decision is that we also continue to support the APIs available for features where these APIs are necessary to the functionality of Windows or where there are APIs that are used by developers that can be viewed as independent of the component.

    To me, this means that IE will still be on your computer, just not visible – as in XP.

    Or maybe… just maybe… this means that the IE shell is completely removed this time… and thus applications won’t have “necromancer” abilities – bring IE back from the dead, but only by making it open up a window for their own purposes.

    Until I get my hands on that build, and see the IE shell files (iexplore.exe and the rest) really be gone from Windos once removed (with the exception of the staged copy), this isn’t news for me.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    It has been confirmed that iexplore.exe will disappear – it will be impossible to launch IE either intentionally or from links in other applications. That goes further than removing a shortcut, although it will still be possible for Windows to use IE components.

  • http://xslt2processor.sourceforge.net boen_robot

    Where/When was it confirmed? Not in the blog post, that’s for sure… have you tried this pre-RC build yourself? Asked the Windows 7 and/or MSIE team(s)?

    Well… if this is true, OK then. I hope this makes the EU happy. I think it’s a fair compromise between compatibility and end-user expectations. Bundling several browsers and/or making the user choose which to download and/or install would be bothersome and non effective. At the same time, not keeping the API would mean many applications would break, including some Windows features. Always having the API, but not always the shell means that only necromancer applications are (potentially) going to break, and that is only in case the user explicitly removes IE… and as far as such applications are concerned, they deserve to break.

  • http://xslt2processor.sourceforge.net boen_robot

    Wait… don’t asnwer the “Where/When” thing… I saw those other reports at the start… it seems those people have tried that build.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    I think Microsoft have been very clever. This is an easy fix, causes minimal disruption to other applications, and could be the answer to all their legal issues.

    Also, how many users will actually attempt an IE uninstall? The vast majority of Windows users never venture into the control panel and, even if they do, why would they remove IE even if it’s not their default browser?

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/ mmj

    How will this affect Microsoft’s legal battles?

    I’d be interested in how it affects all of the software which relies on Internet Explorer for basic operation. Even things like virus scanners (I’m looking at you, McAfee) require Internet Explorer to be installed on the computer in order to work. Not to mention game launchers, and of course, Microsoft’s Windows website itself.

    If those pieces of software continue to be able to access Internet Explorer, then I don’t think it’s really ‘removed’ at all. Not much more than removing the link to it (iexplore.exe is little more than a launcher; it doesn’t ‘contain’ Internet Explorer and you can launch an IE window other ways).

  • AndrewCooper

    Hmm, very interesting. I’m glad they’ve done this because I would have been against the offering of alternative browsers, in my view, it just would have been wrong.

    However, I don’t think this will make a large difference either, to normal users of Windows. Hardly anyone who isn’t tech savvy knows what a web browser is and what the alternatives are so I doubt that they would even dare to try checking that Internet Explorer 8 box.

    I personally feel that having the option to uninstall these windows components will cause more harm to the user than benefits. But we’ll see what happens.

    Andrew Cooper

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    the option to uninstall these windows components will cause more harm to the user than benefits

    It’s a possibility. I suspect Windows will throw up plenty of warnings and perhaps you won’t be able to uninstall IE if it’s your default browser. However, some users are certain to uninstall IE without installing an alternative browser first!

  • http://xslt2processor.sourceforge.net boen_robot

    However, some users are certain to uninstall IE without installing an alternative browser first!

    Indeed – those who don’t use the internet… as crazy as it sounds, such people do exist. Most of them currently use old PCs with Windows 98 or XP at best, with 10GBs HDD or so, 128MBs RAM, etc. but when such components become impossible to find (they are currently difficult, but not impossible to find), people will eventually migrate to Windows 7 or so.

    Not much more than removing the link to it (iexplore.exe is little more than a launcher; it doesn’t ‘contain’ Internet Explorer and you can launch an IE window other ways).

    Launching IE’s rendering engine is indeed possible with its API only, but how do you launch an IE window without the iexplore.exe? Can you give any sample code that could do it? An application that does it? The ones you mention in your comment probably initiate iexplore.exe – you can’t know for sure, unless its an open source app.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/ mmj

    Launching IE’s rendering engine is indeed possible with its API only, but how do you launch an IE window without the iexplore.exe? Can you give any sample code that could do it? An application that does it?

    The interface is not defined in iexplore.exe – iexplore.exe is not much more than a launcher. The reason I know is that people have created portable versions of IE by completely substituting iexplore.exe with another binary (only 89KB in size) and it still launches and runs the full Internet Explorer.

    The interface is defined in a bunch of DLL files which are shared, such as browseui.dll for the browser shell UI.

    The ones you mention in your comment probably initiate iexplore.exe – you can’t know for sure, unless its an open source app.

    You can know for sure. You can use an event monitor. That’s how you debug Windows applications. Also, you may have slightly misunderstood my point about applications such as virus scanners needing to use IE. If they did launch it explicitly using iexplore.exe, then they would stop working as soon as iexplore.exe was removed, therefore this cannot possibly be the case if Microsoft is taking the approach of removing iexplore.exe (they would never break compatibility with that many existing products). Therefore I doubt if Microsoft is removing much at all when you ‘uninstall’ Internet Explorer.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    I think Microsoft have been very clever. This is an easy fix, causes minimal disruption to other applications, and could be the answer to all their legal issues.

    Also, how many users will actually attempt an IE uninstall? The vast majority of Windows users never venture into the control panel and, even if they do, why would they remove IE even if it’s not their default browser?

    Well before they can rest easy, I believe there is the matter of the $2Billion that Microsoft owes to the EU for late fines and the original unfair business practices charge. Unless they have already paid that.

    Originally it was a mere $737 million when they were found guilty of the charge and then because they kept stalling and loosing on appeal the number went way up (late fees and penalties). I haven’t followed it for a long time but about a year ago it was $2B.

  • http://www.inkarcade.com Salad

    There’s more or less no chance of the average non tech-savvy Windows user ever knowing how or being able to uninstall IE8.

  • http://altoonadesign.com halfasleeps

    I have a question. Say a user gets a new win7 system and uninstalls IE before they download a new browser. Are they then screwed? Because they wont have any browser to surf the net for a new browser. Just a thought that popped in my head.

  • http://weblog.200ok.com.au/ 200ok

    Really the option lets you disable IE, it’s not exactly “gone” since the rendering engine has to stay. I imagine this will cause a lot of problems for things like software installers that target IE instead of sending a URL to the system’s default browser (assumption programming).

    I really wouldn’t be surprised if MS later modified the options so that the reboots aren’t required and IE will simple be hidden (hence available again when software would otherwise fail). They can probably still meet legal requirements so long as IE’s not presented directly as a browser.

    It’s far more of a concession than I’d ever have expected – I thought they’d just brazen out the legal case/requirements by making it theoretically possible for people to buy a version of windows with IE removed (probably at greater cost).

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    I still think the best solution is to not permit the uninstallation of any browser if it’s set as your default – not without serious warning messages anyway.