Microsoft announced this morning that it will begin auto-updating Internet Explorer (IE) users' PCs to the latest versions of the browser, a situation that will vary somewhat according to which Windows version they're using. This is similar to how Google's Chrome browser works, though Microsoft is of course also providing corporations and end users with workarounds should they wish to remain on their current IE version.

"In an evolution to our update model for Internet Explorer, we will be instituting auto updates for IE users across Windows XP, Vista, and 7 using Windows Update," Internet Explorer Senior Director Ryan Gavin told me earlier this week. "We'll start this process in January in Australia and Brazil and then gradually scale up and roll it out worldwide."

Microsoft says that this change is good for all of its core browser audiences, including consumers, developers, and the enterprise. It's good for consumers because it lets them stay up to date and secure automatically; all they need to do is enable Automatic Updates and the browser will be updated as needed, with no prompts. It's good for developers, because it lets them focus on the latest web technologies like HTML 5 without worrying about whether most users are accessing the web with a modern browser. And it's good for the enterprise because they can continue to use tools like Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and the IE Automatic Update Blocker toolkits to ensure that they can override this functionality and update on their own schedules.

The experience will vary a bit depending on which version of Windows users are running. Those with Windows XP and IE 6 will be updated to IE 8, Gavin told me, because that's the most recent IE version supported on XP. But users with Windows Vista or Windows 7 will be updated to IE 9. Looking ahead, Microsoft will roll out IE 10 along the same lines as previous IE versions, first via several months of manual user downloads only, followed by the addition of IE 10 to Windows Update. At that point, it would be downloaded automatically to all supported Windows versions.

Today, IE 8 and IE 9 are offered through Windows Update as an Important update, Gavin noted, but the install process requires user interaction and often a PC reboot. So, many users skip the install or forget about it. With this coming change, IE installations will now be automatic and will occur with no user interaction. This methodology ensures that they are always up to date, as is the case with security updates and other fixes.

"IE is how millions of Windows customers connect to the web, so keeping that part of Windows updated at all times is critical to keeping them safe online," a Microsoft blog post reads. "With Automatic Updates enabled through Windows Update, customers can receive IE 9 and future versions of Internet Explorer seamlessly without any 'update fatigue' issues."

Customers who have declined previous installs of IE 8 or IE 9 through Windows Update won't be automatically updated, Microsoft added. And consumers who wish to block any IE automatic updates can do so via an IE Blocker Toolkit. Versions are available today for IE 8 and IE 9, and Gavin told me one would be made available for IE 10 in the future as well.