Microsoft ships tool to block IE11 on Windows 7

IE 'biggest inhibitor to continuous upgrades' for enterprises, says analyst

Microsoft on Friday shipped a toolkit to block Internet Explorer 11 (IE11) from automatically installing on Windows 7 PCs, a signal that the new browser will release in the next few weeks.

The IE11 Blocker Toolkit is aimed at businesses that want to keep employees on an older edition of IE. Its tools include a script that can be run locally, as well as an administrative template IT administrators can use to block IE11 through Group Policy settings.

The toolkit blocks automatic upgrading of older editions of Internet Explorer to IE11 on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 through the operating systems' built-in Automatic Update service. Companies that rely on Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or System Center 2012 do not need the toolkit since they can manage the deployment of IE11 using those tools.

Individuals can also use the toolkit to keep IE11 off their Windows machines without disabling Automatic Updates for all other Microsoft software.

Microsoft has issued similar toolkits for IE7, IE8, IE9 and IE10 before those browsers' public releases. Earlier this year, for example, Microsoft offered a blocking toolkit for IE10 about three weeks prior to the browser's public release.

If Microsoft sticks to the same timetable -- likely, since the idea of the early availability of the toolkit is to give companies time to deploy it -- IE11 will launch near the end of this month or in early November. Microsoft has declined to disclose a ship date for IE11 on Windows 7, saying previously only that it would be this fall.

IE11 on Windows 8.1 will debut sooner: The browser, part of the update to Windows 8, is to land on the Windows Store Thursday, Oct. 17. Current users of Windows 8 and Windows RT can download and install the free Windows 8.1 update -- including IE11 -- that day. Windows 8.1 retail upgrades and systems featuring Windows 8.1 are to launch Oct. 18.

Blocking toolkits, while long crafted by Microsoft, have become more important since early 2012, when the Redmond, Wash. developer began silently upgrading IE to the newest version suitable for a user's version of Windows. Most Windows XP customers, for example, have been upgraded to IE8, while Windows Vista maxed out at IE9 and Windows 7 PCs have, in lieu of a block of one kind or another, been moved to IE10.

Shortly after Microsoft ships the final version of IE11, it will begin pushing the browser to all Windows 7 machines via Automatic Updates. The result will resemble 2013's rapid rise in IE10 adoption. From February through September, IE10's share of all copies of Internet Explorer soared from next to nothing to nearly 34% under the forced upgrade from IE9.

But the rapid release tempo of IE -- accelerated this cycle, with just 7-8 months between IE10's and IE11's release on Windows 7 -- hasn't been welcomed by everyone. Enterprises are struggling to comprehend, much less manage, the faster pace that Microsoft's kicked into gear with Windows 8.1, the update that followed its predecessor, Windows 8, by just a year.

And the constant turnover of IE versions is at the top of IT's frustration list.

According to Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst who focuses on Microsoft and its operating system strategies, "IE is the biggest inhibitor to continuous upgrades" for corporations.

In an hour-long presentation last week at Gartner's annual IT conference, Silver and fellow Gartner analyst Stephen Kleynhans outlined the changes companies should expect in Windows and Office over the next five years, and how to deal with those changes.

IE is a special stumbling block for companies trying to keep up with Microsoft's new cadence. "The faster pace is absolutely the biggest pain point," said Silver in an interview last week. "The problem with faster release cycles is that [enterprises] don't know if their apps will work with each new version of Windows and IE."

Some enterprises have hundreds of in-house, line-of-business (LOB) apps that work with IE8, but not with any newer Microsoft browser, and so have standardized on the 2009 application. While such companies may be interested in adopting Windows 8.1, they simply won't because of the IE issue, said Silver.

The blocking toolkit will not bar upgrades on systems where the IE11 Developer or Release Previews has been installed, and also cannot prevent users from manually installing the new browser. The minuscule kit -- just 98 kilobytes -- has been posted on Microsoft's Download Center website.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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