Technology is constantly changing at a rapid pace. There was a time when the Internet was composed of mostly text, and an occasional picture. Pages were simple and designed to run well with low-end dial-up connections (many of which were even as low as 14.4k or worse).
As time and technology changed, so did the way the web worked. I remember there was a time when framed-webpages were all the rage, for example. These days frames are pretty much avoided and shunned when it comes to effective web design.
The point is that web technology standards do not hold still. Now even the highly popular flash technology is being slowly phased out in favor of the more robust HTML5.
All these changes make the web function (arguably) better, but they come at a cost as well. As technology changes, there is a risk that those with older computers and out-dated browsers will be left behind finding that they can’t browse and use certain parts of the Internet due to capability issues.
This is especially the case with the change to HTML5, which doesn’t necessarily work unless you have a more modernized browser experience.
Microsoft is now changing the IE upgrade model to ensure that its users have the latest version of IE that is compatible with their operating system. Essentially the new upgrade model still uses Windows Update but as long as updates are turned on, it no longer needs any user interaction and will keep itself up to date with security fixes and the latest version possible.
In Windows XP this means that users still running an older version (like IE 6) will get the upgrade treatment to IE 8, and Vista/7 users will get upgraded to IE 9. A similar system will be in place for IE10 and Windows 8 when it arrives on scene, too.
This is actually rather similar to how Google Chrome works with its update system, but makes even more sense on the IE front since many of those who stick with the default IE browser are not as computer savvy and would likely not have upgraded on their own.
Of course there are some users out there, especially in the business sector, that might prefer to set their own upgrade path or need a specific version of IE for whatever reason. Microsoft understands this and there is an Automatic Update Blocker toolkit that prevents automatic upgrades of IE (works with IE 8 and IE 9), for those who don’t want or need the upgrade for whatever reason.
In my opinion, I think this is a good and wise strategy for Microsoft to follow. From a web designer (or even developer) point of view it can be very difficult to make sure you play nice when designing a web-site in order to make sure that you can reach the largest number of users.
What I mean is you might opt to do certain features that you know will work with the newest browsers but also will work with more legacy versions as well. With IE Automatic Upgrades, a larger chunk of users will have the most modern technologies avaliable.
The downside is that XP only supports IE 8. I understand that Microsoft wants to push people to upgrade past the aging Windows XP, but I still somewhat wish that they continued IE versions at least until the end of extended XP support on April 8, 2014.
Of course for those who still have XP, there are more modern browsers out there they can download, but this sort of defeats the point: most casual users don’t worry about their browser version and so if a casual user has an older XP PC they are just somewhat out of luck.
Still, you can’t please everyone and I really do think this is a good move on Microsoft’s part. This roll-out will begin in early 2012 and slowly work its way around the world.
What do you think of the new IE automatic upgrades system? Share your thoughts below.