Preparing for Windows 10: Upgrading to Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 7/8[.1]

To most, this is really old news.  But some organizations on Windows 7 are still running Internet Explorer 8/9/10 due to [potential] compatibility issues.  This is bad because these organizations are in an unsupported configuration:

Beginning January 12, 2016, only the most current version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical support and security updates. Please visit the Internet Explorer Support Lifecycle Policy FAQ here for list of supported operating systems and browser combinations.

In the legal vertical, so much relies on IE add-ons, ActiveX controls and just general compatibility.  Most external sites by now support IE11 – or are getting there – but there are some stragglers.  However, the real problem is with the myriad of internal sites, and its not uncommon to run into one or more key legacy web-based applications still in play that is either not upgradable or requires a significant amount of effort to do so.  This makes people uneasy about upgrading to IE11, which is probably the largest hurdle for getting to Windows 10.

Hopefully this is just enough detail to help get you on your way.

Internet Explorer Upgrade Testing Strategy

Dive right in.

  • Get IE11 setup on a machine
  • Expose the ‘Enterprise Mode’ option under the Tools menu by creating an empty ‘Enable’ string value under ‘HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main\EnterpriseMode’.
  • Start testing

Testing Document Modes

Internet Explorer supports the following Document Modes:

  • Internet Explorer 11 (Edge)
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Internet Explorer 9
  • Internet Explorer 8
  • Internet Explorer 7 (Compatibility View)
    Also falls back to IE5 for sites without a DOCTYPE tag
  • Internet Explorer 5 (Quirks)

In addition, Microsoft also added support for:

  • Interoperable Quirks, primarily for public facing websites that were designed to use the quirks mode of other browsers.
  • IE8 Enterprise Mode which provides higher fidelity emulation for IE8.
  • IE7 Enterprise Mode which is essentially Enterprise Mode running in high fidelity emulation BUT running in either IE7 Document Mode if there is an explicit DOCTYPE tag or in IE5 Document Mode if there is not.
    Its an additive version of Enterprise Mode running in Compatibility View.

Hacking a Combination Lock

Launch IE, go to your first site and test.  If all is well your job is done and you’re off to the next one.  But if text isn’t lining up correctly, images not loading, functions not working then you have to go deeper.

Open the Developer Tools (F12) and start by matching both Document Mode and User Agent String in order, leaving the Browser Profile set to ‘Desktop’.

  • You already know Document Mode ‘IE11 (Default)’ & User Agent String ‘Internet Explorer 11 (Default)’ doesn’t work, so move on
  • Next try ‘IE 10’ & ‘Internet Explorer 10’
  • Then IE9
  • Wash, rinse, repeat
  • Document the winning combination.

I’m guessing that 99% of your sites will work with minor to no manipulation.

Testing Enterprise Mode

If none of the Document Modes work, then you fall back on Enterprise Mode because it provides higher fidelity emulation for those older versions of IE.

  • Start by setting the Browser Profile to Enterprise
  • This will default Document Mode to IE8
  • If IE8 does not work, then use IE7 and IE5 doc modes for IE7 Enterprise Mode.

You should know that there’s a little bit of a ‘cost’ with Enterprise Mode:

  • Performance because of its high fidelity capabilities.  However keep in mind:
    • IE11 in Enterprise Mode is an order of magnitude faster than running IE8 natively.
    • Running in IE11 in Native Mode (Standards Mode) is significantly faster than IE11 in Enterprise Mode.
  • Risk – potentially – because deprecated functions have been brought back.

Deploying the Right Configuration

Great you’ve got a list of sites and their required configurations, the hard part is mostly done.  You’ll need to put those configurations into an XML format that IE can understand using the Enterprise Mode Site List Manager .  Find an existing webserver (or share) were you can serve up this tiny XML file, install the Site List Manager & generate your Site List XML file.

In terms of setting this up from scratch, I happen to like Nystrom’s approach, but you can follow the Microsoft process to get this setup with minimal effort.  Once its up and running you’re all set to pilot with a larger audience.

As much as I was interested in trying out Enterprise Site Discovery, it wasn’t something we felt we needed.  I’m mentioning it here as it could be of significant value to some.

I recommend creating a new GPO to set:

  • ‘Let users turn on and use Enterprise Mode from the Tools menu’
  • ‘Use the Enterprise Mode IE website list’

If you’re in a rush just put together a quick .reg file your testers can use

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main\EnterpriseMode
    • Enable the Tools menu:  “Enable” = “”
      • Or if you want feedback (and I think you do): “Enable” = “{URL}{:port}”
    • Enable the XML site list:  “SiteList” = “{File Path or URL}”

Note:  In case you don’t already know, you can put it in HKLM vs HKCU so all users of the same machine get the settings.  Alternatively you can put it in HKLM\Software\Policies\ or the HKCU equivalent.  Just depends on your environment.

When to use Document Mode vs. Enterprise Mode

Document Mode

While the original <emie> functionality provided great compatibility for enterprises on Internet Explorer 8, the new <docMode> capabilities can help enterprises stay up-to-date regardless of which versions of Internet Explorer are running in their environment. Because of this, Microsoft recommends starting the testing process like this:

  • If your enterprise primarily uses Internet Explorer 8, start testing using Enterprise Mode.
  • If your enterprise primarily uses Internet Explorer 9 or Internet Explorer 10, start testing using the various document modes.

Because you might have multiple versions of Internet Explorer deployed, you might need to use both Enterprise Mode and document modes to effectively move to Internet Explorer 11.

The <docMode> section:

  • only sets the Document Mode for a particular page/website and sends the User Agent String
  • will override what the site itself is asking for.

Enterprise Mode

Enterprise Mode is a compatibility mode that let’s websites render using a modified browser configuration that’s designed to emulate Internet Explorer 8, avoiding the common compatibility problems associated with web apps written and tested on older versions of Internet Explorer.

Through improved emulation, Enterprise Mode lets many legacy web apps run unmodified on Internet Explorer 11, support a number of site patterns that aren’t currently supported by existing document modes.

The <emie> section is higher fidelity emulation of IE8 focused on these compatibility issues reported over the years

  • User Agent String – it’s a faithful representation/replication of the original
    • original IE8 user agent string
    • this includes the versions of .NET on the machine
    • whether the machine is a media center or not.
  • ActiveX Controls – telling the site you’re using IE8 which allows most ActiveX controls to work correctly.  Although you should note that some ActiveX controls query the OS version & browser and as far as I know, you can’t do anything about that.
  • Deprecated Functionality has been brought back like CSS Expressions
  • Turned off some performance improvements to favor compatibility.
  • Fixed things for vertical languages (Japanese, Chinese, Korean etc.)

IE7 Enterprise Mode is effectively this higher fidelity emulation for IE8 running with Compatibility View.  So a site will get either IE7 Document Mode or IE5 Document Mode if it doesn’t have a DOCTYPE tag.  This is useful for some sites and helps organizations as they wean themselves away from displaying all Intranet Sites in Compatibility View because they now have the granular controls they need!

So you can either use:

  • IE7 document mode on the docModes section, because IE7 will fall back to IE5 if there isn’t a DOCTYPE tag which is effectively Compatibility View
  • But if that doesn’t work, you have the higher fidelity emulation within Enterprise Mode to be able to use Enterprise Mode plus Compatibility View.

Once you get a handle on things, you can turn off the ‘Display All Intranet Sites in Compatibility View’ setting allowing your Intranet sites to default to modern standards not old standards.

What Exactly is Compatibility View?

Compatibility View is basically a switch that says:

  • If you have a webpage that has a DOCTYPE tag, it will be rendered in IE7 document mode.
  • If there’s no [explicit] DOCTYPE you end up in IE5 document mode.

Enterprise Mode Site List

This is what the Site List XML file looks like


The XML formatting of the Site List file is fairly easy to understand and the true/false exclude syntax allows for fine-grained control:

<rules version="3">
    <domain exclude="false">crm
      <path exclude="true">/NewModule</path>
      <domain docMode="9">webtool</domain>


I bid you Good Providence in your endeavor to get up to IE11


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