End of the line for Internet Explorer 10 might mean updating embedded systems

IE10 is going away without any more security fixes. Here's how to get your last devices off it.

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Strictly speaking, Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) has been out of support since January 2016, but this time it's really, really going out of support. From January 2020, there will be no more security fixes and no other updates, no more free or paid support options, and the online information about IE10 won't get updated any more.

If you're still using a browser that came out in 2012 and was originally tied to Windows 8, four years after Microsoft first started trying to get enterprises to switch to IE11, it's probably because you're using it on a system you can't update, to which you don't want to make changes.

The only operating systems where IE10 was still supported and updated after January 2016 were Windows Server 2012 and Windows Embedded 8 Standard. When IE11 came out it wasn't available for Windows Server 2012, getting it for Windows 8 meant upgrading to Windows 8.1 and embedded systems are rarely designed to accept any upgrades or updates except security fixes.

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Because support for IE10 on those last two systems is finally ending but they remain in extended support until 2023, Microsoft is making IE11 available for them via the Microsoft Update Catalog, Windows Update and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

This is only the desktop version of IE11, not the 'modern' browser that runs full-screen without any plugins. That makes sense on a server, where you want the browser to open in a standard desktop window. But if you were using the full-screen browser on a Windows 8 embedded system, you may need to make some changes (like setting IE11 to full-screen kiosk mode) if you don't want the experience to change for users.

Turning it up to 11

Microsoft hasn't given specific dates yet; IE11 is coming to the Update Catalog sometime in spring 2019 (which likely means before the end of June), with the other upgrade options coming later in 2019.

That means you won't have many months to test and validate IE11 on any systems where you're still using IE10, so you will want to plan your test labs and pilot rings now.

Microsoft deliberately didn't put the new Edge browsing engine into IE11 because of enterprise concerns that it might cause compatibility problems. Instead, it still uses the Trident engine and includes document modes that emulate the IE5, IE7, IE8, IE9 and IE10 rendering engines.

There are also specific Enterprise Modes to emulate IE8, and IE8 in Compatibility View (itself a compatibility option to render pages in either IE5 or IE7 document mode depending on whether the page has the DOCTYPE tag), but if your sites worked in IE 10 you won't need those.

What you will need to change are sites that have the x-ua-compatible meta tag or HTTP header set to 'IE=edge'; in IE10 that means Internet Explorer 10 mode, but in IE11 it means Internet Explorer 11 mode, because it's just asking for the latest IE version. Set it to 'IE=10' if the site has problems.

The Enterprise Site Discovery tool uses PowerShell and System Center Configuration Manager to collect details about what sites users on a specific device are visiting in IE, which browser mode was used, and whether the browser hung or crashed on the site. You need to run the scripts and install the agent on each PC for which you want to track IE usage.

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Consider limiting what domains and zones you collect telemetry from. Don't run this for more than a few weeks on each device, as it uses WMI and the .MOF logs get quite large and may slow the PC down. If you don't have SCCM, you will need to collect the logs with PowerShell too, using the Get-WmiObject cmdlet.

Use that list with the Enterprise Site List Manager to build an Enterprise Mode Site List that forces IE11 to load specific sites in the right document mode, so you can get legacy web apps to load correctly without needing to update their code. You can add sites one at a time, or in bulk from a text or XML file.

Use the Web Application Compatibility Lab Kit to set the Enterprise Site tools up quickly; it's a pre-built virtual environment with Windows 7 or 10 and the Enterprise Mode Site List Manager and Discovery Toolkit already installed. There's also a 'light' version of the lab that puts the tools onto a Windows 7 or 10 PC you already have set up.

If you have a lot of legacy web apps and need a more comprehensive inventory, an audit tool like Browsium Proton does more of the work for you.

Migrating to IE11 will simplify moving to Windows 10 IoT Enterprise, Windows Server 2019 or Windows Server IoT 2019 (IoT being the new branding for embedded) when the time comes, because you'll already have done the compatibility work. With the Chromium-based version of Edge on the way — which may well have embedded IE support — and the end of extended support for Windows 7 and Server 2008/2008 R2 coming in January 2020 as well, this is a good time to plan what your legacy IE usage will look like in the future.

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By Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.