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Separation of Internet Explorer 7 from the Windows shell

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Windows Internet Explorer 7 changes how you browse for Web content and how you browse Windows shell folders. This article describes some of the motivations behind the separation of Internet Explorer 7 from the Windows shell.

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In Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 for Microsoft Windows XP, you experience in-place browsing, regardless of whether you are running Internet Explorer (IExplore.exe) or the Windows shell (Explorer.exe). When you use Internet Explorer 7 (IExplore.exe) to view a Windows shell folder, browsing uses the Explorer.exe program. This behavior occurs when you use Internet Explorer 7 together with the following operating systems:
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2)
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
Conversely, when you try to view a Web page by using the Windows shell and these same operating systems, browsing occurs in your default Web browser.

Maintaining stability of the Windows shell

In Windows XP, you can seamlessly browse Web pages and Windows folders in-place. This behavior occurs because Internet Explorer 6 and the Windows shell were basically the same program but used different user interface (UI) entry points. A key principle of Internet Explorer 7 is that the installation of a new version of Windows Internet Explorer does not update the Windows shell. Such behavior would have a large effect on the user experience, on functionality, and on stability. Therefore, the components that were previously shared with the Windows shell, such as the main window, the Address bar, and the toolbars, are not updated for Windows XP with SP2 and for Windows Server 2003 with SP1. Instead, Internet Explorer 7 installs newer components for its own use. This behavior significantly reduces compatibility risks and the need for corporate customers to test the Windows shell for Windows Internet Explorer updates.

Consistent use of new security features

Internet Explorer 7 introduces new security features, such as a security report icon and color-coded notifications on the Address bar. Generally, the large number of security changes in Internet Explorer 7 makes it necessary that you use Internet Explorer 7 components instead of Internet Explorer 6.x components to browse Web content. Therefore, Windows Explorer sends Web page browsing to your default Web browser.

Protected mode

With the introduction of integrity levels in Windows Vista, Web content that is rendered in protected mode in Internet Explorer 7 is significantly more enhanced than Web content that is rendered in Windows Explorer. This is a big reason to support only general Web browsing in Windows Internet Explorer 7. Otherwise, enabling general Web browsing in Windows Explorer would defeat the purpose of protected mode in Windows Internet Explorer 7. Another issue is that some Window shell components are not designed to run under protected mode. Hosting shell folder views in protected mode in Internet Explorer 7 could make the Windws shell folder views inoperable. In Windows Vista, Web browsing and shell browsing must be separated to maintain security and functionality.

Optimized experience

Internet Explorer 7 and the new Windows shell in Windows Vista have many new features that are customized for their specific usage scenarios. By separating Internet Explorer 7 and the new Windows shell, Windows Vista offers the following advantages:
  • Internet Explorer 7 and the Windows shell can be optimized for the best possible user experience.
  • Future versions of Windows Internet Explorer and the Windows shell can be updated more quickly to deliver the features that users want.
  • Internet Explorer 7 and the Windows shell can be serviced with less risk of problems.


Microsoft is aware that several customer scenarios have been adversely affected by the decision to force browsing into a separate process. In particular, FTP folders and Web folders frequently relied on in-place browsing to preserve context such as authentication state. FTP folders now interact with servers differently than the FTP folders did in classic FTP view. FTP folders and Web folders are arguably the features that best demonstrate the power and the versatility of a Web browser that is integrated with the Windows shell. We have received feedback that the separation has caused problems for customers who are heavily dependent on the integration of the Web browser and the Windows shell. We are continuing to gather feedback and will research workarounds for compatibility issues that result from these major architectural changes. When we have more information about customer scenarios, we can improve the behavior of features that overlap the boundary between Windows Internet Explorer and the Windows shell. However, we believe that the separation of these components will lead to a more innovative and flexible Web browser.

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Keywords: KB928675, kbinfo, kbtshoot, kbhowto, kbbrowsing, kbexpertiseinter

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Article Info
Article ID : 928675
Revision : 3
Created on : 8/19/2011
Published on : 8/19/2011
Exists online : False
Views : 413