Microsoft will provide automatic updates for its Internet Explorer browser starting in 2012 in a move the company said will improve security for IE users.
"The Web overall is better – and safer – when more people run the most up-to-date browser," said Ryan Gavin, general manager of Internet Explorer business and marketing, in a blog post Thursday. "Our goal is to make sure that Windows customers have the most up-to-date and safest browsing experience possible, with the best protections against malicious software such as malware.
"The industry has been moving towards automatic updates as the norm," Gavin continued, noting that "socially engineered malware" typically targets outdated software. Microsoft's plan is similar to Google's browser update process, which automatically updates the company's Chrome browser on user's computers whenever new releases are ready.
Users also benefit because developers and online businesses rely on improved browser capabilities to provide "richer and more capable Web experiences," Gavin wrote.
Under the new process, users will receive the latest version of IE available for their PC's operating system.
Gavin said the updates would be applied to Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 machines. That means Windows XP users still running IE6 or 7 will be updated to IE8 and customers with PCs running Windows Vista and Windows 7 will receive an upgrade to IE9, which debuted in March.
That should help Microsoft eliminate all copies of the decade-old IE6, which the company has been trying to kill off for some time. Earlier this year the company created a "countdown" Web site (ie6countdown.com) tracking the last vestiges of IE6.
This morning the site showed IE6 usage in the U.S. to be at 1.0 percent. But IE6 usage remains high in some countries, including China where nearly 28 percent of IE users are still on IE6.
The automatic update process will begin in January for customers in Australia and Brazil who have turned on automatic updating via Windows Update, according to Gavin.
But Microsoft realizes that some individuals and organizations may want to opt-out of automatic updates and "set their own upgrade pace," Gavin said. Windows users can stop automatic updates by using the IE8 and IE9 Automatic Update Blocker toolkits. And future versions of IE will provide an option for users to opt out of automatic upgrades altogether.
Customers who have declined previous installations of IE8 or IE9 through Windows Update will not be automatically updated. And customers will have the option of uninstalling the updated browser and continue to receive support for the older browser they were using, Gavin said.
Microsoft is now working on Internet Explorer 10, which is expected to debut sometime in 2012.