intends to begin delivering automatic updates of its Internet Explorer browser beginning next year to ensure that as many machines as possible running Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 are protected from the latest malware schemes of cyber criminals.
"Automatic updates are a very good idea based on every piece of research I've seen," said White Hat Security CTO Jeremiah Grossman. "Keeping software up to date -- particularly Web browsers -- is critical for online security."
The new service will be available initially to those Windows customers who have activated the automatic update feature in Windows. The plan is to introduce automatic IE upgrades gradually -- with the first Windows users to see the new offering located overseas and then scaling up delivery over time.
"This is an important step in helping to move the Web forward," noted Ryan Gavin, the general manager of Internet Explorer business and at Microsoft.
"We will start in January for customers in Australia and Brazil who have turned on automatic updating via Windows Update," he wrote in a blog Thursday.
According to Microsoft's latest security intelligence report, the biggest online threat that Windows users face comes from socially engineered malware targeting outdated Web browsers and other aging software. Making the move to the most current products and services helps PC users increase their against the most prevalent online threats, the software giant said.
One of the popular features of Google's Chrome Web browser has long been its seamless, out-of-sight upgrades under the hood. Earlier this year, Mozilla likewise indicated that it would emulate Google's browser upgrade strategy by early 2012 and now Microsoft intends to follow suit.
On desktop PCs, notebooks and netbooks, IE currently holds a 52.6 percent share of the global browser market -- down from 58.8 percent in December of 2010, according to Net Applications. By adding automatic updates, however, Microsoft stands a better chance of hanging on to the IE users it already had locked in.
"I do think it will affect the rates at which people change browsers -- mainly because I think people consider switching when they are going through an upgrade cycle," said Net Applications Executive Vice President Vincent Vizzaccaro. "If the upgrade cycle happens in the background, that will take away that reminder to consider switching browsers."
An Enterprise Opt-Out
Large corporations, educational institutions and other organizations which need time to evaluate and fully integrate the latest browser upgrades will have the ability to opt out of the automatic upgrade program and develop customized browser upgrade schedules that best fit their respective business requirements.
"The Internet Explorer 8 and Internet Explorer 9 Automatic Update Blocker toolkits prevent automatic upgrades of IE for Windows customers who do not want them," Gavin wrote.
Individual consumers with automatic updating via Windows Update switched on will retain the same personal home page, search provider and default browser settings after receiving each new browser upgrade. Additionally, consumers who have previously declined invitations to install IE8 or IE9 on their PCs will not be forced to do so.
"Future versions of IE [also] will provide an option in the product for consumers to opt out of automatic upgrading," Gavin said.
Individual IE users also will be able to uninstall any IE browser update and continue receiving support for the specific version of IE that they prefer to run on their machines. Still, Gavin noted that "the Web overall is better -- and safer -- when more people run the most up-to-date browser."