Removal of Internet Explorer
The process of removing Internet Explorer from a personal computer has changed over the browser's version history, but the nature of many of its upgrades and installation methods has been a matter of public interest. The first version to be included was version 2 with Windows 95 in late 1996. Later, users who upgraded to IE3 (which came out in 1996), could still use the last IE, because the installation converted the previous version to separate directory.
However, Internet Explorer 4 created a controversy with its shell integration with Windows Explorer, and with later versions removal (or inability to do so) became more complicated. The idea of removing Internet Explorer from a Microsoft Windows operating system was proposed during the United States v. Microsoft case. Later, some security advocates took up the idea as a way to protect Windows systems from attack via IE vulnerabilities. By the release of Internet Explorer 7, some of the shell integration began being reduced, such as changing ActiveX hosting and a different look than Windows Explorer.
Windows 7 and Windows 8 allow one to safely remove (or turn off) Internet Explorer. Doing so removes the browser's executable file, unregisters its HTTP shell protocol handlers, and removes the icons from the user interface. Dependencies such as the Trident layout engine are not removed through this process, but the Internet Explorer executable (iexplore.exe) is removed without harming any other Windows components, thus preventing Internet Explorer itself from running. It was proposed that a special version of Windows 7, Windows 7 E, would be shipped without Internet Explorer in Europe as a result of EU antitrust investigations against Microsoft. However, in July 2009, Microsoft cancelled the Windows 7 E editions due to negative reactions from computer manufacturers.
While a major upgrade of Internet Explorer can be uninstalled in a traditional way if the user has saved the original application files for uninstallation, the matter of uninstalling the version of the browser that has shipped with an operating system remains a controversial one.
The idea of removing a stock install of Internet Explorer from a Windows system was proposed during the United States v. Microsoft case, and Microsoft themselves acknowledged that many users did not want IE. One of Microsoft's arguments during the trial, however, was that removing Internet Explorer from Windows may result in system instability.
The Australian computer scientist Shane Brooks demonstrated that Windows 98 could in fact run with Internet Explorer removed. Brooks made his work available as a freeware removal utility called IEradicator, which removes all versions of IE from all versions of Windows 9x. Another programmer named Bruce Jensen published a similar utility called "Revenge of Mozilla." Shane Brooks went on to develop a more sophisticated program for Windows 98 and ME, marketed as 98lite, which turns IE, along with several other "mandatory" Windows components, into optional components that can be added or removed from the OS at will. He later created XPLite, which renders many parts of Windows 2000 and XP into optional components. Both of Brooks's programs can remove IE after the installation of the operating system.
There are other methods of removing IE based on modifying the Windows installation process so that IE is never installed in the first place. 98lite can be used in this way. A method developed by Fred Vorck manually alters the setup scripts for Windows 2000 to prevent the installation of IE. His process has been automated as a feature of HFSLIP. nLite and HFSLIP are automated programs that allow users to modify the Windows installation process, both to incorporate patches and updates and to exclude IE and many other Windows components from installation as desired.
Removing Internet Explorer does have a number of consequences. Some programs bundled with Windows, such as Outlook Express, and some basic Windows components, such as Help and Support, depend on libraries installed by IE in order to function. With IE removed, they may fail to work, or exhibit unexpected behavior. Several common 3rd party applications, Intuit's Quicken being a typical example, depend heavily upon the HTML rendering components installed by the browser. For this reason, most of the IE removal utilities offer the compromise option of removing large parts of IE while still leaving behind the HTML rendering engine or "IE core," which allows many of these 3rd party applications to function normally. Also, in versions of Windows before Vista, it is also not possible to run Microsoft's Windows Update or Microsoft Update with any other browser due to the service's implementation of an ActiveX control, which no other browser supports. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, Windows Update is implemented as a Control Panel applet.
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Simply installing and using another browser does not prevent third party programs and core operating system components from using IE libraries. Thus, a user who does not use IE to browse the Web can still be targeted by attacks against vulnerabilities in these libraries—for instance, via Outlook Express or the Windows Help subsystem. However, removing the IE libraries will cause these programs, and other software which depends upon them, to cease functioning or even to crash the system.
It is unclear what it means to "remove IE" because such a removal depends on being able to determine which files or functions on an installed Windows system are part of IE — that is, to draw a line between IE and the rest of Windows. Microsoft has held that this is not meaningful; that in Windows 98 and newer versions, "Internet Explorer" is not a separate piece of software but simply a brand name for the Web-browsing and HTML-displaying capacities of the Windows operating system. In this view, the result of removing IE is simply a damaged Windows system; to have a working system without IE one must replace Windows entirely.
In contrast, some programmers and security writers have held that it is possible to have a useful and working Windows system with IE excised, that is, without Microsoft's implementation of web browsing and HTML viewing. These people include consultant Fred Vorck, who advocates that consumers should have the choice to remove "integrated" features of Microsoft Windows and participates in the HFSLIP project; Dino Nuhagic, who is the creator of nLite — a product that allows users to remove Windows components like Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player, amongst others; and Shane Brooks, who created 98lite and XPLite to remove and manage Windows components after the installation of the operating system. Some people have suggested the use of alternative browsers instead of Internet Explorer, to try reduce the risk of vulnerabilities.
Methods have been developed by these programmers and others to remove Internet Explorer from Windows 95 after installing, as well as before install time. Removing Internet Explorer from Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 is also possible at installation time.
One of Microsoft's arguments during the United States v. Microsoft trial was that removing Internet Explorer from Windows may result in system instability. At least one commentator supported this argument, and noted that removing Internet Explorer would also disable Windows Update, leaving the user without vital security updates to the operating system. Almost all Windows Updates can be downloaded from Microsoft's homepage independent of the operating system or web browser used.
When removing Internet Explorer prior to Windows installation using nLite, there is a distinction between removing Internet Explorer and Internet Explorer Core. If the latter is not removed, core components needed for displaying HTML help files and other operating system tasks are not removed, but the web browser is removed from the system.
While the dominant market position of Windows and Internet Explorer may cause these arguments to appear insubstantial, this arrangement is not unique to Windows. Safari, the default browser on Mac OS X, is similarly integrated into the operating system. While it is possible to delete the application itself without problem, Safari is in fact merely a front-end for Apple's open source WebKit framework, which is heavily integrated into the operating system and cannot be removed. However, certain other browsers available for use on the operating system are also built on WebKit, and WebKit can also be used in other operating systems. By contrast, the closed source Internet Explorer core can only be used by Internet Explorer, as well as Internet Explorer shells, in Windows.
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