Microsoft has announced that starting in January 2012 Internet Explorer will, like Chrome, Firefox and Opera, no longer pester you with update notices. Instead Internet Explorer will automatically download and install updates in the background.
The new auto-update feature will only apply to users who've opted into the automatic updates through Windows Update. Those that have opted in will be upgraded to the latest version of IE available for their system. If you're still on Windows XP that means you'll be updated to IE 8. Vista and Windows 7 users will move to IE 9. The Windows Blog notes that when upgrading your home page, search provider, and default browser settings will not be affected.
Internet Explorer updates have been offered through Windows Update previously, but unlike other "important" Windows updates, users needed to initiate the actual installation of IE updates via a dialog box. The only real change for most users in today's announcement is that you'll no longer need to mess with all those notification windows and dialogs. Instead IE will just seamlessly upgrade.
If you don't want automatic updates, you can turn off Windows Update (though you should be aware that doing so could leave you with a insecure browser and operating system). Enterprises customers can opt out of the new auto-update mechanism using the IE 8 and IE 9 Automatic Update Blocker toolkits available from Microsoft.
The new auto-updating will ensure that users have the latest, most secure and stable version of IE, and web developers may be able to enjoy a fringe benefit as well—fewer IE 6 and IE 7 users on the web.
According to Microsoft IE 6 usage is currently at 8.4 percent worldwide, with some countries already under 1 percent while others, like China, remain high at 27.9 percent.
Microsoft has previously launched a campaign to kill off IE 6 and many large websites—like Google and WordPress—have already dropped support for the aging browser.
Web developers still supporting IE 6 may not need to do so much longer if Microsoft's auto-update strategy pays off. Since the new auto-update mechanism will apply to IE 7 as well, it too may not need to be supported much longer. Of course, even in the best case scenario where IE 6 and 7 users drop below 5 percent worldwide, web developers would still need to contend with IE 8. While IE 8 was a huge step up from its predecessors, it still lacks support for most of the HTML5 and CSS 3 features found in modern web browsers.
Microsoft's move to silent, automatic updates for Internet Explorer means that Apple's Safari web browser is now the only browser that doesn't default to automatically updating. Microsoft says that the auto-updating will roll out regionally, starting in January with users in Australia and Brazil and "scaling up over time."