Microsoft plans to use its Automatic Updates patch-distribution service to push its stand-alone Internet Explorer 7.0 browser to customers once the product is ready to ship in the fourth quarter of this year.
But just as it did with a couple of service packs—most notably Windows XP Service Pack 2—Microsoft will provide corporations with a way to block IE 7.0's distribution so they can control when and if the product is distributed to their users. And unlike the case with previous "blocker tools," the one for IE 7.0 will not bake in a preset download deadline. As a result, corporations can set IE 7.0 to download on any date in the future they choose, Microsoft officials said.
Because of the myriad security fixes incorporated into the product, Microsoft plans to designate IE 7.0 as a "high priority" update, officials said. But users and administrators will be prompted to opt in and accept the IE 7.0 download; it won't happen automatically without notification, Microsoft officials stressed. Users who have opted to hide access to IE won't be presented with the download option at all, officials said.
To obtain the IE 7 code, users will be required to validate that they are running a nonpirated version of Windows, via Microsoft's WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) authentication mechanism.
Microsoft has come under fire as of late for pushing technologies to users via Automatic Updates without their knowledge. Microsoft used Automatic Updates to quietly deliver the recently introduced WGA Notification tool—which was "phoning home" from users' systems to Microsoft on a daily basis—resulting in outcry from many customers and company watchers.
Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry said he'd prefer Microsoft to deliver IE 7.0 via another mechanism, not Automatic Updates.
"AU [Automatic Updates] is for security fixes for which there is an imminent danger, ones for which the threat of an exploit is so great that users can't risk not running them," Cherry said. "They need some other kind of site where users can easily find and choose the code they want downloaded."
Microsoft officials said they are making Microsoft's IE 7.0 distribution plans public several months ahead of product availability to give enterprises more time to digest them. Microsoft heard from customers in 2004 with XP SP2 that they needed more time to prepare for software downloads pushed out via Automatic Updates, said Gary Schare, director of IE product management.
Microsoft also plans to make the final stand-alone IE 7.0 code available for download on the Microsoft Download Center and Internet Explorer Web site, for users who don't use Windows Update/Automatic Updates.
IE 7.0 is the first stand-alone version of Microsoft's browser that the company has delivered since IE 6.0, which Microsoft released in 2001. It will run on Windows XP Service Pack 2, XP Professional x64, Windows Server 2003 SP 1, Windows Server 2003 x64 and Windows Server 2003 ia64 systems.
The stand-alone IE 7.0 release will include almost all of the functionality that is built into the version of IE 7.0 that will be integrated into Windows Vista, Microsoft officials have said.
Microsoft delivered the most recent test build, Beta 3, of the stand-alone IE 7.0 in late June. The company is planning to deliver Release Candidate (RC) 1 of IE 7.0 some time in the third calendar quarter, Schare said. (Microsoft is expected to deliver RC1 of Vista in late August, according to beta testers.) The RC1 IE 7.0 build will be the last publicly released test build of the browser, Schare said.
The final version of IE 7.0 is still on track to be released about the same time as Vista is released to manufacturing, which is expected later this fall, if Microsoft holds to its most recently stated timetable.
Microsoft is planning to make the IE 7.0 Blocker Toolkit available as a free download from the Microsoft Download Center starting on July 26. The tool kit will consist of a Group Policy template and an executable script.