Microsoft will start automatically upgrading Windows users to the latest version of Internet Explorer from early next year, in a bid to improve security by ensuring that as many people as possible have the most up-to-date version of the browser.
This new initiative, which was disclosed in Microsoft's Exploring IE blog, will kick off in January for Windows users in Australia and Brazil, scaling out over time to other territories.
The move is being interpreted by many as a push to finally get rid of the ageing and idiosyncratic IE6 version of the browser, but the upgrade will also affect IE7 and IE8 users.
The news comes as figures from web metrics firm StatCounter showed that Google's Chrome 15 browser has overtaken Internet Explorer 8 in popularity for the first time.
However, users will be able to opt out if they do not use IE or if they want to upgrade at their own pace, Microsoft said.
Microsoft's chief of Internet Explorer business and marketing, Ryan Gavin, said in the blog that the move will be good for enterprises and consumers.
"The web overall is better and safer when more people run the most up-to-date browser. Our goal is to make sure that Windows customers have the most up-to-date and safest browsing experience possible, with the best protections against malicious software such as malware," he said.
The automatic upgrade will affect users of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, but which browser you get will depend on which version you are running.
Customers running Windows Vista SP2 or Windows 7 RTM or SP1 will be upgraded from IE7 or IE8 to IE9.
Meanwhile, customers running Windows XP SP3 will be upgraded from IE6 or IE7 to IE8, as IE9 does not run on Windows XP.
Microsoft defended the upgrade, saying that having people on the most up-to-date version of its browser is better for everyone, as newer versions are more compliant with web standards.
But for organisations concerned that an upgrade might break compatibility with some web-based applications, Microsoft said that IE8 and IE9 Automatic Update Blocker toolkits are available to prevent automatic upgrades for those who do not want them.
Any customers who have previously declined installation of IE8 or IE9 through Windows Update will also not be automatically updated, the company said.
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