Making us all safer

If I buy a car and there’s a recall where the manufacturer repairs a component that it acknowledges has a problem, I’m very happy.  I make an appointment, take the time to drive it in, make alternative plans for the time period, and drive away happy knowing that my vehicle is safer and more reliable and generally better than it was before the recall.  It’s unfortunate but it’s a matter of reality that sometimes things go wrong and it’s good that the manufacturer does the right thing and makes it all good.

So, it’s with real puzzlement that I read all of the negative comments about Microsoft’s intention to silently upgrade copies of Internet Explorer 6 to something a little more contemporary and safer for the internet user depending upon your version of the Windows operating system.  To read some of the negativity, you’d think that the corporation was stealing first borns throughout the electronic world.

Internet Explorer has shaped the online world for years.  It’s an interesting read to take a look at the Wikipedia article and imagine the evolution of the browser from its Mosaic heritage and then Internet Explorer 1 through today’s Internet Explorer 9 and a sneak at Internet Explorer 10.

It’s not like Microsoft hasn’t encouraged the online world to upgrade.  The ie6countdown web site paints an interesting picture of the use of the browser world-wide.

I compare the Microsoft solution to what Google is doing with its own browser, Google Chrome.  Chrome is a relatively new web browser and it works so slickly.  You never have to manually update it.  Updates are pushed out silently to you.  Check the Google Chrome version window from one week to the next and you’ll see that it’s getting updated all the time.  As I write this entry, it’s up to version 16, all without effort on my part.  The news from the Mozilla camp is similar.  From what I’m reading, when version 10 hits the streets, it will silently upgrade itself as well.  (I’m using Version 9 now)  I think it’s comforting to know that as new features and bugs are addressed that my browser really becomes just an online appliance that works without intervention on my part.  And yet, I’m reading comments from people complaining that it’s bad because Microsoft plans to do it.

The only feasible answer lies in applications that rely on active server pages and works only on Internet Explorer 6.  But, check the history.  Interent Explorer 6 predates even Windows XP.  That makes it over 10 years old!  Doesn’t that original application have an update to work on something more modern?

What has become obsolete?  The browser or the application?

Obsolete is something that we deal with in the computer world all the time.  Yes, there are screamers and hollerers should the browser go away.  But, it’s just a browser.  And, a free one at that.

I think back to Apple and its upgrade of its operating system to Version 10.7 or fondly called Lion.  Many of us upgraded as soon as the first adopters said that this was a good upgrade to version 10.6.  But, this wasn’t without its own challenges.  I’m still waiting for a 10.7.3 that will stop the intermittent lockups and it was so disappointing to see that with a simple upgrade a whole slew of applications would no longer work.  I’m referring, of course, to Power PC only applications.  In my case, it was the Ministry of Education licensed Filemaker Pro application.  Yet, in the Apple world, most people seemed to take it as an inconvenience that time and money will solve.

But, an application that won’t run in Internet Explorer 6 or perform silent updates and the screaming starts.  Microsoft has even produced a “don’t upgrade me” application if you are adamant that you don’t want to upgrade.

From my perspective, it looks like Microsoft is doing the right thing.  The plan is to make browsing with the product as safe as possible.  Despite the attempts to get people to upgrade, the countdown clock indicates that people aren’t taking the advice.  I think it’s exactly the right thing that all three major brower manufacturers are doing.  Why not make it so that your best and safest browser is the one that’s in production?  Many people have multiple browsers on their computer to make sure that they can access all web pages correctly.  No one single browser does all that yet.  Instead of the end user having to keep everything up to date, doesn’t it make sense that the vendor pushes it to you?

PCWorld has published a very comprehensive FAQ about the process that offers a nice explanation.

So, just like my car dealer who is keeping my car up to date and safe, there will be a day when we can say the same for our browsers.  The only difference is – the dealer won’t come to my house and perform the update when I start my engine.  Now, that would be real service!

p.s. Want to see a browser exploit researcher in action?  Check out the video below.

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