The revolutionary control and compatibility that Enterprise Mode for IE 11 delivers

The new Enterprise Mode in Internet Explorer 11 helps to fix your LoB web app compatibility issues, unblocking your ability to upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Read on to learn out how and why…

There is a revolution underway in enterprise IT, characterized by the BYOD trend but strongly contrasted by the realities of enterprise IT. Trouble is, internal LoB web apps are late to the party. The speed of change in enterprise application architectures in many organisations often dawdles behind the pace of improvement we’re becoming used to in our personal tech lives.

This has left a unique situation where devices and the apps on the devices are no longer capable of dealing with old applications due to deprecated standards or new app patterns. Web based LoB applications and portals are generally huge offenders. You probably have at least a couple inside your organisation and they probably slow down your adoption of newer, more enabling technologies.

Internet Explorer 11 has a feature that revolutionizes the approach to the legacy web app problem: Enterprise Mode.

This feature helps Internet Explorer deliver very high compatibility with older applications while maintain the advantages of a modern browser (like JavaScript rendering speed). Of course just having that ability isn’t much use unless you have telemetry that tells you where you, the IT admin, need to target those compatibility features: which sites. Moreover, the telemetry is only helpful if you can act upon it through management.

Why: Compatibility

Enterprise Mode is a compatibility mode that runs on Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 8.1 Update and Windows 7 devices and lets websites render using a modified browser configuration. That configuration is designed to emulate Internet Explorer 8, avoiding the common compatibility problems associated with web apps written and tested on older versions of Internet Explorer.

I come across lots of enterprises that have not managed to yet reach the nirvana of 100% of their endpoints running on the latest version of Windows. I also see that many customers have many browser versions out there. So there is a need to identify commonality and that highest level of commonality comes from Internet Explorer 8 which was available for Windows XP through to Windows 7. Many organizations standardized on IE8. It therefore makes total logical sense to support IE8 in this way in IE11 (which is available for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1)…this provides the highest surface area for backward compatibility and forward facing browser innovation. There is a great blog post by the IE team on the various compatibility vectors.

You’ll know yourself that compatibility can be hit-and-miss when it’s something the user has to do. When you go to a site and it looks wrong, so you try a compatibility mode or another browser, it breaks your workflow. Enterprise Mode overcomes this because an enterprise controls a list of sites and subsites or web paths that need to use enterprise mode for rendering. In other words you can remove the burden of compatibility switching and troubleshooting from your users.

Why: Performance

One of the surprising improvements in IE11 is that pages designed for IE8 and rendered with Enterprise Mode will render faster than IE8 would have rendered the page natively. That is because of years (literally years) of improvement in the Internet Explorer engines for Java Script and layout and the improvements in hardware rendering. If you think about it this is a pretty amazing thing. If you have Windows 7 PCs why would you hold off on deploying Internet Explorer 11 when compatibility for all but the most uncommon of conditions is resolved?

How: Crowd Sourced Telemetry

Personally I think this is one of the best (and cleverest) features in Enterprise Mode. As an IT admin you probably don’t have the full picture of all the internal sites that need compatibility modes enabled. I’ve been involved in enough “software catalogue” projects to know that when you survey IT and your users about what corporate apps they use you get about 80% of the apps on the first take and the next 20% while you’re running your migration project. Wouldn’t live piloting be a better approach?

Enterprise Mode supports logging to a central IIS server for Enterprise Mode. So it’s possible to:

  • Deploy IE11 to a group of test users
  • Enable that test pool to use Enterprise Mode at will to make sites work for them
  • Have Enterprise Mode log to an IIS server which URLs it is being used for
  • Finally you parse the logs for your results

This means that you capture more information that you can act on. Insight to Action.

This “crowd sourced telemetry” is quite simple to setup, detailed instructions on TechNet

How: Management for “corporate owned” devices

As you would expect there is management of IE for enterprises through Group Policy and this includes Enterprise Mode. You will however need more than “just” group policy, but not much more. Enterprise Mode uses a site list that details the sites to use Enterprise Mode on: as I said earlier it can make compatibility invisible to the user. The site list can be stored on either of:

  • HTTP location: “SiteList”=”http://localhost:8080/sites.xml”
  • Local network: “SiteList”=”file://network/shares/sites.xml”
  • Or Local file: “SiteList”=”file:///c:\\Users\\<user>\\Documents\\testList.xml”

Within the group policy setting Use the Enterprise Mode IE website list you simply enable the setting and point to your site list. Creating your site list is pretty simple too, you take your crowd sourced telemetry and create a list using the Enterprise Mode Site List Manager. You can learn more about creating an Enterprise Mode site list on TechNet

How: Management for “employee owned” devices

The world of device management is changing right now to take advantage of those new models like BYOD and so while it’s quite likely that someone could bring a Windows 8.1 tablet to work and try to access the legacy expenses app, it’s pretty unlikely they are going to let you slap Group Policy on the device! Of course there’s a good chance you now have a mobility policy and it includes enrolment into your corporate MDM solution (such as Windows Intune). For that reason we made IE11 Enterprise Mode manageable through the OMA-DM agent in Windows 8.1 Update. Of course you might also have users brining in Windows 7 devices, there you’ll have to give them a script or some instructions to change the appropriate registry keys.

So when your employees enroll their Windows 8.1 tablet into management they can now have their email, WiFi, VPN, Apps and Internet Explorer compatibility automatically configured for them!

Of course we don’t just see this type of management as applicable for BYOD scenarios. This pre-integrated management is perfect for company owned solutions too, perhaps you need to deploy Windows 8.1 devices to field based task workers in your organization that don’t come into the office often: This is a great solution for those types of scenarios too. You can find a full list of the settings that Windows Intune can manage for you on devices here on TechNet too.


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  1. Pingback: The revolutionary control and compatibility that Enterprise Mode for IE 11 delivers | MS Tech BLOG

  2. This is a good feature, it especially helped in our XP (IE8) to Win7 (IE11) migration earlier in the year.

    I find the tool for editing the site-list.xml a bit clunky. It should be able to pick up the existing list and append to it, not have to overwrite the file each time. In fact, I don’t see why there can’t be an editable list directly in group policy. It would certainly make things a lot simpler from a sysadmin point of view.

    There also seems to be an unpredictable delay in when a site added to the XML will be activated on the client PC. Is there a way to force it to refresh?

  3. Enterprise Mode sounds confusingly indistinct from Compatibility Mode. And more complex to set up. I’m not sure why MS couldn’t just upgrade Compatibility Mode to include the telemetry element.

    • Thanks for the feedback and for commenting.

      Actually it’s far easier to setup because you can simply configure it centrally with an XML site list and registry settings, group policy or OMA-DM URI. To add sites to a compatibility mode either the user has to do something or you have to re-code the sites to enable a compatibility mode. Enterprise mode is easier because it doesn’t require code changes (which are often unsupported by the app ISV).

      Changing compatibility modes would have another problem…it would break the way that people have already recoded their websites.

  4. At a customer o mine we have some Web Apps that Run well with IE 9 but not with 8 or 11. To bad Compatibility and Enterprise Mode do not let us select in witch Mode the Site should run. And even more strange is that IE can do this with pressing F12 and Selecting the Documentmode.

    • Great feedback, and thanks for commenting.

      The compatibility that Enterprise Mode provides is different from changing the Doc mode…is it possible that (in this case) the app is actually hard coded to expect IE9 and throws up with anything different, forcing the site into a strange compatibility mode, such as Quirks?

  5. IE11 is a great product filled with good features but unstable. Still requires a few patches

  6. I was excited by the headline – then gutted when I read further and realized that the plan is NOT to upgrade anything to modern standards, but to give enterprise bosses yet another excuse to put off bringing their systems up to date.

    Web developers by and large develop targeting current, standards compliant browsers, and then do the extra work required to cater for bugs and capability shortfalls on older browsers. We watch statistics to monitor what portion of our users are still on buggy kit, looking forward to the day when we can declare “your browser is no longer supported – please upgrade”.

    This move means we must continue to support IE8’s limitations. When will it end?

    • Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’d argue that it does not mean you have to continue to support “IE8’s limitations”. You’re right, you code for modern standards and IE11 supports those, this gives admins the option to continue to run older sites that they simply cannot afford to upgrade or replace for some reason. If you’re building new, you just build for new…that’s it. You can actually STOP catering for older browsers.

      This specifically does allow enterprises to run a modern, supported browser, the very latest browser, on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1
      Hope that helps clarify.

  7. Sounds good the compatibility mode. But.. i have some questions: IE11 can apply GPO from Windows 2008 Server or I need upgrade to Server 2012?

  8. How does the logging of URLs stand with regard to [European] laws on data protection?

    • I’m not a lawyer, so this isn’t legal advice.

      What you’re collecting is the irks that they visit and use Enterprise Mode for, that’s unlikley to be anything other than an internal LoB site but you probably want to let your employees know. Of course if your using a proxy there is probably some logging going on there already so just be sure to be consistent. But consult a lawyer.

  9. Pingback: Last Week in Enterprise Mobility September 22, 2014 at 10:33PM - Enterprise Devices + Infrastructure

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