Microsoft to push IE8 via Automatic Update, issues blocking tool

Tool kit availability points to an early April release for browser

Microsoft Corp. yesterday posted a tool kit to block the upcoming Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) from downloading and installing automatically when it is officially released later this year.

If the company uses a timeline similar to its previous Web browser, the tool kit's release means that Microsoft is likely to deliver IE8 within the next three months.

In an entry to a company blog, an IE program manager said that Microsoft would push IE8 to users via its Windows Update and Microsoft Update services when the browser is finished. The blocker modifies each PC's Windows registry.

"We've done a lot of work in IE8 to maintain compatibility with sites designed for Internet Explorer 7 -- for example, compatibility view and the compatibility meta tag," said Jane Maliouta, the IE program manager. "However, we know many IT organizations will still want to test the browser before it is deployed."

The tool kit offers two components: an executable blocker script that creates a new key in the Windows registry to stymie automatic downloading and installation, and a group policy template that can be imported into a company's existing policy infrastructure.

The blocking tool kit has no expiration date, Maliouta said, and it can't prevent users from manually updating their machines by grabbing IE8 from Microsoft's download site. Nor will the tool kit bar the final IE8 from systems that have been running a beta or "release candidate" version, Maliouta added.

As it did more than two years ago when it released IE7, Microsoft plans to distribute IE8 using its Automatic Update mechanism. The browser will be listed as a "High Priority" update in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, and "Important" in Windows Vista and Server 2008. The blocking tool, however, downgrades IE8 to an optional download.

Taking another page from IE7, the new browser will also offer users who do receive IE8 through Automatic Update the option of rejecting or delaying the installation before it actually begins. Users will see a splash screen before IE8 installs that gives them three choices: "Ask me later," "Install" and "Don't Install." Users who pick the first option will be offered IE8 the next time that the PC conducts an update scan.

But the blocker has no effect on PCs that receive updates via the usual corporate channels, such as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or Systems Management Server (SMS), according to an FAQ that Microsoft also posted Tuesday. "If your organization uses WSUS to manage updates, and Update Rollups are configured for automatic installation, Internet Explorer will automatically install throughout your organization," the FAQ read.

The blocking tool kit is another hint that Microsoft will soon release IE8. In July 2006, as the company was still beta testing IE7, it rolled out a blocker for that browser, saying it wanted to give companies "ample time" to deploy the tool kit before IE7 hit Automatic Updates. Microsoft delivered the final version of IE7 less than three months later, in October 2006.

If Microsoft keeps to the same timetable, it would issue IE8 around April 1.

Microsoft has not committed to a definitive release date for IE8, although last month it said a release candidate was "just around the corner."

The IE8 blocking tool kit can be downloaded from Microsoft's site.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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