Updated: June 27, 2009
For the first time in its history, Microsoft finally has a browser that may actually be worth keeping. Even though it cannot compare with Firefox or Opera in terms of security, speed, usability, or W3C compliance, it's a lightyear leap over its predecessors (IE5-7). And for the first time, Microsoft lets you not have it. Yes, you've read it right: for the first time, you can remove Internet Explorer from your Windows installation, permanently.
One of the big legal issues Microsoft has faced in the recent decade has been the bundling of a web browser into the Windows operating system. Not so much the bundling itself, more the fact that you could not remove the browser. Internet Explorer has always been an integral part of Windows.
Truth to be told, most users do need some sort of a browser included, because they cannot possibly use wget or similar tools to download the browser of their choice from the Internet. Then, there's the issue of router or printer configuration, some of which require a browser. For most people, having one is a total must.
Microsoft has learned a lot from the bitter legal battles with European Union over the Internet Explorer monopoly. And finally, they have decided that the browser would ship with the operating system, but it could be later removed by the user. Starting with one of the advanced betas, Windows 7 lets you remove Internet Explorer 8 from the system, forever.
Let's see how this can be done. I will demonstrate using Windows 7 Ultimate Edition build 7077 (RC). Depending on the version you're running, you might not see the exact same menus and options, especially since things might change before the official release. First, you need to open the Control Panel. Click on Programs and Features.
Then, in the left pane, click on Turn Windows features on or off.
Select Internet Explorer 8 and clear its checkbox.
You'll be warned that some Windows features and applications may cease working.
Once the removal is done, you will have to reboot.
Once you reboot, you'll see Windows re-configuring itself.
After the process is complete and you reach the desktop, IE8 icon will be gone from the taskbar and you won't be able to find Internet Explorer anywhere in the menus.
That's it. The browser will now rest in peace. You can go about happily using another browser. Or not. If you change your mind, the process is fully reversible. Go about the same procedure as before, check the unselected component and wait for the reboot.
Here's the big, 600,000-dollar question. Should you? First, I must tell you a secret. Removing Internet Explorer has always possible, although not by conventional means. It was - and still is - possible by using nLite or similar products, which specialize in customizing Windows installations. The program lets you take away anything you don't want, down to individual DLLs. Great. Except that no one really knows the consequences of these actions.
Advanced users love nLite and use it to slim their installations, taking away anything they do not need, often breaking the functionality of this and that. Even though this should not happen, Windows utilities, even the basic and innocent ones like Notepad, are all tightly integrated into the system. Removing one will cripple another, even if it takes you seven months to discover this, often by mistake.
There are tons of guides online, telling you what you can or cannot safely remove from Windows, but most of them are guesswork and based on prior experience rather than factual dependency map between applications. Thus, removing Windows components is purely a gamble. It might work - or it might not.
Today, Internet Explorer 8 can be officially removed. This means that nothing should break. Microsoft probably know what they're doing. This is a very nice and commendable decision on their behalf. But what about hundreds of programs developed by third parties that count on Internet Explorer being installed and used as the default browser?
Exactly. Internet Explorer 8 can be removed, but the question whether this move will keep your system 100% healthy cannot be answered. It's impossible to estimate what a million other programs will do when they land into an IE-less system. Will you get errors? Or will things keep working? And if they do, will they function as expected?
My warmest suggestion is: if you don't like Internet Explorer 8, do not use it. But do not uninstall it. Keep it there, for legacy and compatibility sake, especially if you're installing big, bloated programs created by big companies.
By removing Internet Explorer, you may reduce the exposure factor of your system to vulnerabilities and possible exploits somewhat, but if you take things into the right perspective, this should not be much of an issue. It's possible to live happily with Internet Explorer 6 infesting the system, even without anti-virus software or regular patches, so I see no reason why Internet Explorer 8 should be a life-or-death issue.
Wondering how to keep your Windows safe? Plain and simple: follow a few simple Web practices. There's no dark magic to it. Alternative applications, a bit of reasoning, no random clicking on random files, and you should be OK. Really.
Removing Internet Explorer 8 can be done, quite easily. Nevertheless, I, a Linux geek and fanboy, sincerely recommend you do not do this. You may break dependencies you might not even be aware of. You may not even notice something is wrong. But a year from now, you might try to install a program that will complain and fail, and you won't even know why this is.
Check out the installation requirements for some programs out there. Quite a few require that Internet Explorer be installed. It's like Hotel California: you can check out, but you can never leave.
My best advice is to simply forget about Internet Explorer. If you don't like it, don't use it. It's that simple. If you are really bothered by what your system demands of you, by the lack of freedom and control, then you may want to consider a different operating system.
But if you need or want to use Windows and dislike Internet Explorer, simply use Firefox, Opera or any other browser you like. That's the simplest way of solving things.