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Microsoft disables automatic IE 8 downloads

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Microsoft will cushion you from the Internet Explorer 8 standards mess with software to prevent automatic download of its next browser to your machine.

The company has released an IE8 Blocker Toolkit that will stop users installing IE8 via its Automatic Update service before compatibility testing has been finished.

Microsoft's IE8 Blocker Toolkit will prevent Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 users from getting IE8 as a "high priority" and those on Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 getting IE 8 as an "important update." Instead, IE 8 will arrive as an optional install.

Microsoft said it's delivering the toolkit because - despite its own testing - "IT organizations will still want to test the browser before it is deployed."

IE blocker toolkits are not a new idea and have been introduced before by Microsoft. The thinking is that organizations can test new versions of IE against their own applications before they roll out the new software on PCs and servers to ensure compatibility and no breaking changes.

IE8, though, faces a unique challenge. For the first time, regular users - never mind employees accessing their companies' unique applications or other online properties - might not be able to view millions of ordinary sites online using a new version of Microsoft's browser.

The problem centers on the fact that IE 8 has been built to support web standards, a major departure from the past. Microsoft has decided that IE8 should also support the legacy of sites built to render using non-standards compatible IE. It's doing this by offering users the ability to view web sites using a "default mode" (for standards viewing) and a "compatibility view" (to view old sites).

The idea was users could switch between both.

The problem is: Early betas have found users are not switching modes and are instead viewing all sites using the wrong mode. Others report that even in default mode, the same sites they visit don't always render properly, so sometimes they work and other times they don't.

Some major web sites, meanwhile, have not heeded Microsoft's advice to test they work with IE8 in default standards mode or they have not added a special tag or HTTP header to their site that would instruct IE8 to view the site in compatible-view mode.

All this has combined to help push back IE8, with a third beta now due this year.

In a sign of the scale of the problem, Microsoft said the IE 8 Blocker does not have an expiration date. That means that until there's an official change of policy by Microsoft, users will not be getting IE 8 by default and will need to go on installing the software themselves.

Given the fact that automatic updates are a slick way to drive uptake of new software because it requires a minimum of effort by the end user, that's bound to delay uptake of IE8. That could help see IE's overall market share further eroded while Firefox and Safari continue their steady gains, based on either smooth download and update processes or growing sale of Macs and iPhones.

The saving grace could be IE8 beta testers. Microsoft's blocker toolkit won't block the final version of IE8 being offered to users who've have got pre-release versions of IE8 on their machines. ®

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