Benjamin Franklin said nothing in this world is certain except for death and taxes. Almost as certain as those two things, however, is the fact that Microsoft eventually stops supporting its old software. We experienced it in the summer of 2015 when the company put Windows Server 2003 out to pasture, as well as back in early 2014 when the company finally pulled the plug on Windows XP. And now it's happened again.
If you use the Internet Explorer browser, take heed, because as of January 12th 2016, Microsoft no longer provides technical support or security updates for "older" versions of the Web browser. That means Internet Explorer 11 is now the only version that Microsoft supports.
While the lack of technical support for older versions of IE shouldn't be a great loss to most small businesses, the fact that those older versions no longer receive patches for yet-to-be-discovered security flaws is a big problem; it makes them much more susceptible to malware. In fact, you can count on the bad guys making an extra effort to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in outdated versions of IE (versions 8, 9, and 10), knowing that they won't be fixed.
That's a cause for serious concern, because there are still a lot of older IE versions in use. According to NetMarketShare's most recent (December 2015) data, IE 8, 9, and 10 cumulatively hold nearly 32 percent of desktop browser market (though part of this may represent use on obsolete operating systems such as Windows XP).
It's Time to Upgrade Internet Explorer
If your small business uses Internet Explorer, it's a good time to make sure your browsers are up-to-date. Here's a bit of good news: you don’t need to worry about systems running Windows 8.1, Windows 10, or Windows Server 2012 R2, because IE 11 came installed on those operating systems.
If, however, you're running an older-but-still-relatively-current OS—most notably Windows 7, which originally shipped with IE 8—your version of IE may very well be outdated. That's because Microsoft typically published new versions of IE as optional updates, so in most cases they would not have been installed automatically even if the system was automatically installing operating system updates.
Indeed, on corporate networks that run Professional editions of Windows, new IE versions were most likely not published at all in order to prevent compatibility problems with custom Web browser-based applications specifically designed to work with earlier versions of IE (more on this in a bit).
How to Upgrade Internet Explorer
To check which version of IE you have running on your PC, open IE, click on the gear icon and select About Internet Explorer (Figure 1); or you can just click here. You may not even need to check, because if your version of IE is obsolete you'll soon receive "End of Life" notifications if you haven’t already. (The previous link includes registry modifications you can use to disable those notifications.)
If you need to upgrade, you can download it via Windows Update, or you can just click here. Alternatively, you can get the offline installer that lets you download IE 11 once and install it on multiple systems. Be sure to choose the correct language, and note that there are three different versions of IE 11: 32- and 64-bit versions for Windows 7, and 64-bit for Windows Server 2008 R2.
If your network includes a Windows server with WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) installed, you can use it to push IE 11 to all the computers on your network.
Internet Explorer 11 Enterprise Mode
If your small business uses aforementioned custom Web browser-based apps that rely on older versions of IE, you can (and should) still upgrade to IE 11, but you'll want to take advantage of IE 11's Enterprise Mode.
In a nutshell, Enterprise Mode emulates earlier IE versions to improve compatibility with so-called "legacy" Web apps, and it lets you define and centrally manage a list of specific sites/apps that require this emulation; all others automatically run in native mode so you get the full benefit of a modern browser for them.
Microsoft has committed to support IE 11's Enterprise Mode on Windows 7 for four more years—through January 14, 2010—so this should give you plenty of time to transition away from your app(s). Click here for more details on IE 11 Enterprise Mode and how it works.
Kick Internet Explorer to the Curb
If like many small businesses you run Google's Chrome browser alongside IE on some or all of your systems—and don't need IE to support a specific app—you might consider standardizing on Chrome and jettisoning IE altogether. Ninte Pro (read our review) offers a very easy—but not free—way to install Chrome on all your networked systems (and keep them updated).
If you go the Chrome route, disable or remove IE from your systems to prevent someone from inadvertently using it, and to avoid browser fights over which one will be the default. Go to this page for details on how to do that for various versions of Windows.
Lastly, even if you don't use Internet Explorer and don't plan to use it in the future, you should upgrade to IE 11. That's because IE includes various components that are shared with the Windows operating system and will leave you vulnerable if they're not updated. What's more, even if you're planning to remove Internet Explorer entirely, upgrade to IE 11 first, and then remove it.
Joseph Moran is a technology writer and IT consultant specializing in services for consumers and small businesses. He's written extensively for numerous print and online publications, and is the author of File Management Made Simple, Windows Edition from Apress.
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