Microsoft will begin automatically upgrading users of Internet Explorer to the latest version of the browser next year.
Following in the footsteps of rivals Google and Mozilla, Microsoft will push updates to IE through its Windows Update service. The move will help alleviate the problem of users stubbornly refusing to upgrade to the latest version, a scenario which left Internet Explorer 6 as the world's second most used browser in 2010, nine years after it was launched.
Security researchers have have noted that users are far less likely to suffer from an online attack if using the latest browser.
"The web overall is better – and safer – when more people run the most up-to-date browser," wrote Ryan Gavin, general manager for Internet Explorer on the Windows Internet Explorer blog.
"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."
Microsoft will, however, give users the option to prevent the automatic updates. A pair of blockers for users of Internet Explorer 8 and Internet Explorer 9 have been made available, throwing a lifeline to companies running applications based on legacy versions of IE.
Microsoft says improved security isn't its only motivation for pushing updates to users: upgrading to the latest version of Internet Explorer will also give users better compatibility with sites built on HTML5.
"Developers and online businesses can rely on better browsers to deliver richer and more capable web experiences," Gavin writes. "We built IE9 with a focus on modern web standards and interoperability so that developers could spend less time coding for specific browsers and spend more time building the next big thing on the web. More of the web running an HTML5 capable browser, vs something built ten years ago, is a great thing for developers and the businesses they support."
However, Microsoft is guilty of cutting its own users adrift. Internet Explorer 9 is only compatible with Windows 7 and Vista, leaving Windows XP users stuck on Internet Explorer 8. By contrast, the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox both support Windows XP.
Version 10 of Internet Explorer is currently only available on the developers' preview of Windows 8.