Microsoft says it will begin pushing its new web browser, Internet Explorer 8 (IE 8), to users of Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 via Windows Update as soon as next week. The browser will be made available as an optional update to those customers who have enabled Automatic Updates, and the update will happen in stages over time.

"Starting on or about the third week of April, users still running IE 6 or IE 7 on Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003, or Windows Server 2008 will get a notification through Automatic Update about IE 8," a Microsoft statement reads. "This rollout will start with a narrow audience and expand over time to the entire user base. On Windows XP and Server 2003, the update will be High-Priority. On Windows Vista and Server 2008, it will be Important."

Microsoft released IE 8 to the web last month after a year of beta testing. The new browser comes with a number of usability and performance improvements, including a new Favorites bar, Web Slices, Accelerators, tab grouping, and other features.

If you've enabled Automatic Updates, you won't see IE 8 automatically installed. Instead, you must explicitly OK the installation, and you're free to decline it. Businesses that want to block this automatic notification can download a Blocker Toolkit for IE 8 from Microsoft's website. Microsoft advises that if you do want to block the IE 8 notification, you should have blocking in place by April 20.

Finally, Microsoft says it will roll out IE 8 to Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and Systems Management Server (SMS), its corporate-oriented software distribution services, in July 2009. On those systems, IE 8 will be classified as an Update Rollup and will need to be approved by an administrator before it's deployed to user desktops