Internet Explorer 11 has autoupdate
Earlier this week I came across this Internet Explorer 11 screenshot.
I was extremely happy to see this and I have to say that this feature is finally implemented by Microsoft not a minute too soon. In my opinion the tyranny of IE8 (and IE7 before that, and IE6 before that) was exactly due to the fact that those browser could not automatically update to the latest version.
What’s the problem with Internet Explorer today
Even today a lot of people are stuck with Internet Explorer 8 or even 7. You can’t expect users to download the latest version of their software and you can’t count on the auto updating of Windows since a lot of users don’t install updates. The Windows updates are only installed when the user has enabled the feature and even then, each time there is a new update a prompt will ask him/her if the update should be installed. Needless to say the average user simply ignores the prompt. In some cases (aka Windows XP) even if you do install all the updates, you are still stuck with Internet Explorer 8 since Microsoft decided to drop support for that operating system. The result is that a lot of computers are stuck with monolithic versions of Internet Explorer and a lot of web designers are considering homicide.
You can either choose to offer a different user experience to older browsers and use progressive enhancement, or you need to go to great lengths and use a couple of 3rd party libraries to improve the support of those features in older browsers. That has led to a lot of cool libraries like jQuery to be bloated since they basically need to have a different codebase for Internet Explorer and an other codebase for the rest of the world. This library in particular, jQuery, announced earlier this year that will drop support for legacy browsers in order to become more lean.
The importance of the Internet Explorer auto-update feature
Users eventually migrate from older versions of Internet Explorer to newer ones. Most users were forced to migrate when Microsoft dropped support for Windows XP. Maybe they bought a new PC which had Windows 7 pre installed so they got Internet Explorer 9 by default. The same thing will happen when Microsoft drops support for Windows Vista. If big sites that the average user uses and basically can’t live without, like Facebook and YouTube, decide to no longer support legacy browsers, the users that haven’t already updated will eventually be forced to do so.
The thing is: even if those things were to happen, and it’s a big decision for sites like Facebook to block some of its users, prior to the auto updating Internet Explorer it wouldn’t mean anything. Users would update but in the end, they would still be stuck with a static non updating browser. In other words, they would be doomed to perpetuate a vicious cycle. In 5 years or so, web designers would moan at the thought of developing a website for Internet Explorer 11 because it would lack the latest cool feature that everybody else already has. Now that Internet Explorer finally joins the rest of the world in the auto updating browsers universe, Internet Explorer will always be on top of the latest developments much like Chrome, Firefox or Opera.
It’s probably going to take some years for the legacy browsers to become extinct, or retain a small enough percentage to ignore them, but I believe that this is a step in the right direction.