Microsoft quietly announced last week that it will distribute its new Internet Explorer 7 browser (known mainly as IE7) through Windows Update as a “high priority update.” The Windows Update service is found on most Windows XP operating systems, and in most cases will automatically download critical software bug fixes, patches, and secretary updates. Although its rare that the company would release a major software enhancement in this fashion, Microsoft justifies its actions by stating that there are many “advanced security” features on its upcoming release, making a security fix rather than a browser upgrade.
However, distributing IE through Windows most certainly gives the Redmond, Washington based company a leg up against its competitors, most notably Firefox and Opera. The IE browser has steadily been losing market share since Firefox was released, and the Internet Explorer 7 (which hasn’t seen a major upgrade in the past 6 years) mimics the Firefox browser, adding tabbed browsing and RSS integration.
Is the software giant back to its old tricks? Let’s not forget that Windows integration with IE was the central focus of the US Justice Department’s anti-trust case against Microsoft in 1998. Although the company in the end got a slap on the wrist, there are lingering fears that the software giant could use its dominance of the desktop to distribute its products. Also, pushing an automatic update shortly after a browser is released also raises the fear of placing untested and potentially bug-ridden software on your computer.
The blogosphere seems to be split on the decision. Security Wonk calls it a “a huge win for web security,” while Rusty of Radical Georgia Moderate writes, “It’s the uncountable number of internal corporate apps that rely on IE6 and don’t run in any other browser that will be broken by a forced IE7 upgrade.”
Even with these caveats, the company is pushing ahead with its IE distribution plans. Microsoft is offering an IE Download Blocker to Enterprise Managers to halt automatic downloads over corporate networks. The company also states that IE team is working with Enterprise Managers to bring corporate applications up to date. However, the issue may still persist for many business and home users, who won’t have this software or the expertise readily available to them, leaving many consumers in the dark.
Microsoft plans to distribute the final release of IE7 in the fourth quarter of this year. More information on this release can be found at the Microsoft web site.