By Craig Buckler

Auto-Updates Are Coming to Internet Explorer

By Craig Buckler

Here’s an early present for you: Microsoft has announced that Internet Explorer users will receive automatic updates from January 2012.

The program will be launched in Australia and Brazil for all users who have Windows Update enabled. Other locales will be added over the coming months. Windows XP users will receive IE8 while Vista and 7 users will receive IE9. It’s the final nail in the IE6 and IE7 coffins.

We’ve been waiting a long time but Microsoft has finally admitted the web is better and safer when people run the most up-to-date version of their preferred browsing application. IE is the last mainstream browser to automatically update — and it’s the one which needed it most!

Automatic updates always posed a problem for Microsoft. Business users operating Windows and IE couldn’t risk introducing an untested browser into the organization which could potentially break intranet applications. This problem was exacerbated by Microsoft’s sedate progress — particularly the five year gap between IE6 and IE7. The fairly radical IE7 update broke many systems which had been specifically developed for IE6. Fortunately, browser development is more rapid (but could be better) and many of IE’s fundamental problems have been fixed.

If necessary, individuals and organizations can opt-out from the update process:

  • Those who previously declined installation of IE8 or IE9 through Windows Update will not be automatically updated.
  • Microsoft provide IE8 and IE9 Automatic Update Blocker toolkits. Versions are available for individuals and organizations but I really don’t want to publicize the links. If you need the download, please find it yourself!

Those who disable Windows Update or use illegitimate copies of the OS won’t receive the update either. Security updates for all supported browsers — regardless of version — will continue to be delivered as before.

While web developers want users to have the latest and greatest technologies, there will almost certainly be a backlash from some sectors. Therefore, from IE10, the browser will include an opt-out setting to disable automatic updates. Mozilla intends to offer a similar option in Firefox when silent updates are implemented. Personally, I think that’s a good decision which will pacify large organizations’ reluctance for regular updates.

Well done Microsoft; you’ve made me happy today. Now if only you could do something for XP users who are stuck with IE8 — the last remaining ‘modern’ browser without HTML5 support…

  • Eric Naujock

    Its finally good to see this. Unfortunately Microsoft still makes it easy for those who bury their heads in the sand will not upgrade. As long as there is the ability to drag along their chains of past versions there will be those who will not upgrade. While there may be legitimate reasons to not do so continuing to give the crutch will only allow the same trouble children to not upgrade. If anything its time for Microsoft to force the upgrade unless they have a contract to not upgrade. While this may anger some users it would drop the bad past and yet still allow those whose enterprise is totally dependent on old versions to stay where they are.

  • Be careful, Craig. You don’t want to make the well-to-do modernists around here angry with your XP ideology… Heaven forbid someone with experience caters to that OS nowadays.

    That aside, what exactly does this imply for those amongst us who love hanging out with Mr. Noia?
    Para Noia, that is… Would this not give M$ keys to the city? What about some virus that can, oh, I don’t know, modify headers (perhaps) that fools a browser into thinking it’s downloading packets from… Well, you get the point. What say you lad?

    And what exactly does this mean for the likes of CSS and so forth? There’s going to be some growing pains in all this before the dust settles.

    • The IE upgrades are part of the standard Windows Update. If you trust that, you’ll be fine. I’m not aware of anyone who’s had a virus inflicted by it, but corporations usually switch it off so they can deliver approved and tested updates via their network.

  • Very great news! Hopefully we can all happily develop sites without having to think back to the conditional stylesheet days… Thanks for the info

  • This just might be the best news I’ve heard all year. Thanks for making my day Craig!

  • Ian Muir

    While I appreciate the gesture, I don’t think this will do much. Microsoft has taken similar steps in the past to try to force updates and there have always been hold-outs. At this point, it’s unlikely that there are many users with legal copies of Windows that are running IE6 accidentally. It takes at least a basic level of tech-savviness to disable the updates that have already come out. Just take a quick read through the comments on the blog post and you will see quite a bit of anger from corporate IT types.

    That being said, having an official stance from the vendor allows web developers to back up their claims that we shouldn’t worry about IE support. It’s harder for draconian IT pros to keep their companies hostage with IE6 when even Microsoft says it’s a bad idea.

  • Malcolm Sheridan

    This is great news apart from everyone who works in the enterprise. I work for an international bank, who shall remain nameless, and we’re still on IE6. Auto updating IE is just not an option.

    Maybe in a few years the thinking around this might change, but until then, I’ll have to rely on Chrome at work :)

  • My heart leapt when I first saw this but as other posters say anyone who has automatic updates on will already be on IE8 unless they have specifically chosen not to upgrade and MS won’t override that choice (which is right). So I think we will be left with pretty much the same IE6 tail that we have now.

    The other issue as you say is that XP users still can’t upgrade past IE8 which may be better than IE6 but hardly qualifies as a modern browser. And it appears that Vista users won’t be able to upgrade past IE9 so that is another few million browsers which be out of date in a few years.

    What I would love Microsoft to do is release a convergence browser which doesn’t rely on the graphics acceleration etc of Vista/Windows 7+ but which can run on every version of Windows. Perhaps they could do a deal with Mozilla and rebrand Firefox as IE8.5, Mozilla could use the money after losing Google’s funding.

    • Stevie D

      I always used to think the same, but I’ve just looked at my site logs and it turns out I was wrong…

      In the first 3 weeks of December 2011, IE6 made up 0.9% of all visits, but Windows 2000/NT/98/95 combined made up less than 0.05%. So there actually are people out there using versions of Windows that support IE7/8 who are still using IE6!

  • Kise S.

    I still don’t understand why they tie the browser and its rendering engine so deep in the system, i would think it will be best of the browser were a shell for the rendering engine so that they can update it regularly without people losing their loved IE 6 interface :S

    also the can provide say new meta tag to target specific version of their rendering engine for while until its dies

    • Technically, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have standalone versions of IE – there are plenty of solutions which simulate it. However, the original reason for deep integration was partly technical (IE uses Windows components and vice versa) and partly marketing (Windows users have IE whether they want it or not). That said, an OS without a browser is fundamentally useless for most people.

  • Michael Chang

    Thank god for this. I’m sick of seeing mom-and-pop users still using outdated browsers. And I’m even more sick of having to add hacks to my websites just so IE users can use them. As for enterprise users who still need to use old versions of IE: you can drop your old, sick, tired apps now. If they’re so outdated that you need IE6, then they’re no good anyway. Web apps aren’t like desktop apps; they’re like living, organic things that change all the time. Get used to it. Do you still drive 80s-era Ford Pintos?

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