Internet Explorer, the most widely used browser (in the world and in the United States) is adding a feature that will automatically upgrade its users to the latest and presumably the most secure software available.
The feature will initially update users to the most recent version of IE9, wrote Ryan Gavin, the General Manager of Internet Explorer Business and Marketing, in a post on Microsoft's Internet Explorer blog. For users with Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, and with the Automatic Update feature turned on in Windows Update, Internet Explorer will auto-upgrade to newer versions (when available) each time Windows Update runs.
Gavin framed the decision to include auto-upgrade as a cybersecurity necessity:
The Web overall is better – and safer – when more people run the most up-to-date browser. 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.
We want to make updating to the best protection possible as fast and simple as we can for Windows customers. IE is how millions of Windows customers connect to the Web, so keeping that part of Windows updated at all times is critical to keeping them safe online. With automatic updates enabled through Windows Update, customers can receive IE9 and future versions of Internet Explorer seamlessly without any “update fatigue” issues.
Though Internet Explorer has a wide lead in browser market share -- StatCounter has worldwide usage of IE at about 40 percent, with Firefox and Chrome trailing at 25 percent a piece -- its dominance has dropped over time as insurgents from Google and Mozilla have gained fans. Chrome already has unobtrusive auto-upgrades, which kick in each time you restart your browser; Firefox tried out auto-upgrading for a time in 2010, only to pull them; Mozilla has said it expects to re-implement "silent updates" some time in 2012.
Internet Explorer's auto-upgrades will roll out to users gradually, starting in January in Australia and Brazil. Gavin's post did not give a timeline for when the changes would come to American PCs, nor how the process will work initially, but it does mention that users unhappy with the changes will have the option to uninstall any updates they don't like. It is also unclear just how many users will, in fact, be upgraded, as "customers who have declined previous installations of IE8 or IE9 through Windows Update will not be automatically updated."
For those that can't wait until 2012, you can always download the latest version of Internet Explorer on Microsoft's website.