Microsoft has dropped a strong hint that the long-awaited version of Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7 might actually ship soon – ironically, by releasing a tool that blocks installation of the browser on users' PCs.
That's no great shocker in and of itself, and it doesn't mean Microsoft has lost faith in its latest browser. Redmond has issued similar packages for the last few versions of IE, too, to give IT admins time to make sure the new releases won't break their in-house web apps.
What is news, however, is that Microsoft is planning to push IE10 out through Windows Update at all. IE10 has been the default browser on Windows 8 since it launched in October 2012, and Windows Server 2012 has had it since September.
But while Redmond has been promising a version that would run on Windows 7 since April 2011, that project appeared to have stumbled in fits and starts throughout 2012, and we've heard nothing much since a Release Preview finally emerged in November.
It's never been clear just why porting IE10 to Windows 7 has taken so long. When Microsoft shipped the Release Preview, IE group program manager Rob Mauceri said it gave Windows 7 users "all of the performance, security, and under-hood changes that enable a stellar Web experience" with IE10 – but apparently it didn't perform well enough or wasn't secure enough to become an official release.
Microsoft's release notes now say that it will ship IE10 as an "Important" update – as it has done for previous versions of the browser – for all users of 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and 64-bit Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1.
What the notes don't say is when Microsoft plans to do this – only that the final release "is expected in 2013." If history serves, however, the appearance of the Blocker Toolkit is a very positive sign, though it will be at least a month yet before IE10 starts rolling out to Windows Update, and possibly longer if any last minute bugs hold it up.
As with previous IE Blocker Toolkits, the version for IE10 simply sets a few Registry keys that prevent Windows Update from installing that particular package. It can't stop anyone from grabbing the browser from the Microsoft Download Center and installing it by hand.
The Blocker won't work if you have the IE10 Release Preview installed on your machine, either. Microsoft figures that if you've gone that far, it's better to upgrade you to the final code to make sure you keep getting any future security patches.
About that, though: Historically, IE has been known for its security flaws almost as much as for its poor compliance with web standards. But the last few major IE exploits have only affected earlier versions of the browser, not IE10.