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Internet ExplorerMicrosoft will begin automatically updating Windows users with the latest version of its Internet Explorer web browser, the company announced today.

Competing browsers, like Firefox and Apple’s Safari, have provided automatic updates for years. IE’s decision to follow suit is still significant, though. IE still commands 21.2 percent of all browser usage, according to data collected by W3schools.com. However, within that figure, only 5.1 percent of people in November 2011 are using the most recent version of the browser, IE 9.

“This is an important step in helping to move the Web forward,” wrote Internet Explorer Senior Director Ryan Gavin on the IE blog. “The Web overall is better – and safer – when more people run the most up-to-date browser.”

Updating to the latest browser version will also help speed up HTML5 adoption across all websites — meaning websites will be more dynamic and able to function regardless of the device constraints (mobile, desktop, etc.). It’ll also cut down on security exploits that enable identify theft.

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Microsoft is pushing out the automatic IE updates starting in January to all machines running Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 to users in Australia and Brazil, with the worldwide roll out to follow. Only users who have explicitly turned on the “automatic updates” feature will experience the auto updates. However, many people may have this setting enabled due to constant prompts by Windows each time there’s an available update.

Inevitably, many IT departments will be hesitant about upgrading automatically because they don’t know exactly how the changes will interact with their company’s infrastructure. (And generally speaking, many IT departments also like to test any new upgrades before rolling them out company-wide to ensure everything continues running smoothly.) Gavin acknowledges this and advises them to use the Internet Explorer 8 and Internet Explorer 9 Automatic Update Blocker toolkits to prevent this from happening.

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