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Microsoft strips some Windows 7 users of IE11 patch privileges

Gregg Keizer | June 16, 2014
Microsoft has quietly stopped serving security updates to Internet Explorer 11 on consumer and small business Windows 7 PCs unless the customer has successfully applied a browser update from April.

Enterprises were given a three-month extension to the Windows 8.1-to-Windows 8.1 Update deadline after customers raised a stink about the five-week tempo Microsoft first demanded. The same extension has been given companies running IE11 on Windows 7.

Companies that have denied workers access to IE11 using a blocking toolkit released last October will not be affected. Nor will any Windows users running IE7, IE8, IE9 or IE10.

As far as Computerworld could determine, this is the first time that Microsoft selectively shut off patches to IE while still providing updates to the operating system.

It's unclear why Microsoft did this — unlike the situation with Windows 8.1, the firm has not publicly explained the move or even publicized the requirement — but it may be attributed to the significance of the IE11 update in April. In a support document, Microsoft listed numerous changes to IE11 on Windows 7.

Also possibly in play: Microsoft stressed that the reason why Windows 8.1 Update had to be applied was that the version was to be "the new servicing baseline" for the operating system. The company may consider the IE11 April update the same way, as a line in the sand that will serve as the assumption for all new fixes going forward.

Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, agreed. "It does indeed sound like the same required baseline approach we saw with [Windows] 8.1 Update," Miller said in an email.

But the lack of information to Windows 7 users was unusual. Although the IE security bulletins released in April, May and June all mentioned the new requirements, those bulletins are rarely read by end users. In fact, they're designed for corporate IT staff. Even diligent readers could have easily missed the information in those bulletins. More glaring is that while Microsoft publicized the Windows 8.1-to-Windows 8.1 Update requirement in several April blogs, the company has not done the same for the IE11 on Windows 7 mandate.

Admittedly, most users who have Windows Update set to automatically download and install updates — a majority of consumers — do not need to be aware of such requirements, assuming those updates are successfully installed. But Windows and IE updates are not foolproof: They sometimes fail to take. In that case, users on Windows 7 running IE11 might not know that they are now unprotected, and will remain so until MS14-018 is deployed.

Businesses that have eschewed MS14-108 in order to test its impact on IE11 and how it interacts with their workflows or internal Web apps may also be unaware of their pending Aug. 12 deadline.

The oversight, if that is what it was, was the more remarkable for the widespread use of Windows 7 and IE11. According to Web metrics company Net Applications, Windows 7 powered 50% of all personal computers that went online in May, or 55% of all those running Windows.


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