Microsoft gets silent upgrade religion, will push IE auto-updates

Copies Chrome and follows Firefox to get users onto the newest browser without asking permission

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IE security updates, which are delivered every other month through Windows updates, will not be affected, as they are already silently downloaded and applied if users opt in to automatic updates.

But the move gives Microsoft a new way both to kill off its aged browsers -- it's run an anti-IE6 campaign for over two years, going so far as to host an IE6 "deathwatch" website -- and pick up the development pace if it wanted.

The timespan between IE8 and IE9 was approximately a year -- fast by Microsoft's previous standard -- and the company seems committed to delivering IE10 a year after IE9.

Chrome and Firefox, meanwhile, change version numbers approximately every six weeks, letting their developers add features as they're completed rather than holding them for months until the next release cycle.

The change may also be a realization that IE needs to regularly refresh, as do Chrome and Firefox, in the increasingly competitive browser market.

In the last 12 months, IE has lost 7.8 percentage points in usage share, according to Net Applications, while Chrome has gained 8.6 points and Firefox has slipped by 1.4 points. At its current loss rate, IE will fall under the 50% mark as early as February 2012.

Even Windows 7 users, which Microsoft regularly touts as its target audience, haven't rushed to adopt IE9, which debuted in March 2011. Currently, IE9 accounts for just under 25% of all browsers running on Windows 7, even though Microsoft concluded its non-automatic IE8-to-IE9 upgrade offer last June.

And Microsoft should expect some backlash, said Storms.

"That will happen. It's the natural knee-jerk reaction," he said, referring to the complaints regularly voiced whenever silent updates are discussed. Those grievances generally revolve around users anxious about losing control over what's planted on their PCs. "But because of the way they're doing it -- they're going to honor your choice, there's still a way to opt out -- I don't think it will be serious," Storms continued.

Kandek predicted little fallout from the move.

Overall, the experts applauded Microsoft for taking a long-overdue step.

"It's an opportunity for them to go with the tide," said Storms. "Every other browser does it, and the quality of Microsoft's IE patches and updates have been tremendous. So why not let Microsoft do it automatically?"

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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