Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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IE7 Special Report
January 29, 2007

The User's Column, January, 2007
IE7 Special Report
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

A special report on Internet Explorer 7,
with a note on Firefox.

It began with a letter from Peter Glaskowsky:

eWeek article: Monthly Microsoft Patch Hides Tricky IE 7 Download

This article by John Pallatto says that Microsoft is using the January security upgrade to sneak IE 7 into user's machines. I was pretty annoyed to hear about that. Microsoft has been saying for some time now that it would not mix security patches with new-feature upgrades. Since IE 7 is known to have problems on some people's machines, this would be a case of a security update causing more problems than it solves for some people-- including, apparently, the author of this article.

But it doesn't seem to be true. I tested the claim on my Tablet PC, which has never had IE 7 on it and hasn't been to Windows Update since last year.

I found that the recommended updates included IE 7, but it isn't part of any of the security updates. It's a separate item on the list, correctly named.

I installed all of the recommended updates except IE 7, and rebooted, and I still don't have IE 7 on that machine.

So I'm not sure what Pallatto's mistake was, but there's nothing tricky going on as far as I can tell.

Just a heads-up if this article starts getting emailed around a lot, since it looks like the kind of thing that might.

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Chaos Manor Reviews managing editor Brian Bilbrey replied:

True, but if you have automatic updates turned on, as many do, you got IE7. Happened to XP machines all over my place. We had to back it out.



We got to wondering how that happened. My sources at Microsoft say there was no change in policy and they are not quite sure what the problem is; if you don't want IE7, don't install it. Of course being Microsofties they all run IE7.

Alex Pournelle came up with this:

My Scientific Wild Guess on what is happening:

The Toaster is always asking "don't you want some toast?" but that doesn't mean you ever have to say yes... of course, that means you need to KNOW to say no, and do so every time. And most companies aren't smart or detail-oriented enough to make their PCs knock off asking for IE 7.

My bigger bitch with IE7 (besides that it's slow, it breaks some websites, it has security flaws, and is generally sucky compared to FireFox) is that it doesn't display the menu bar by default--you have to enable it. What the ^&*(*&^%^&*&^!? Oh, and the menu bar comes up LAST, after IE7 finally fires up (because the sucker is huge), so you can't even get at it for 15-30 secs.


I did some tests and that seems to be the explanation. If you have your automatic updates set to "Trust Microsoft" and just accept what they send you (and wow! Would the zombification hackers love to be able to get into that data stream!) some machines might download and install IE7 without further ado, but that will depend on some local condition; it has never happened to me. I have automatic updates including automatic acceptance on the IBM/Lenovo t42p I am writing this on, and it has yet to install IE7 or even ask about it: when I open Internet Explorer it is version 6.90 with all security patches.

On the other hand, I have IE7 installed on Alexis, my AMD Dual Processor main communications machine; I got it because, like the intelligent toaster in Red Dwarf, Microsoft updates kept asking me if I wanted to install IE7 and I got tired of saying no. Since I rarely use Internet Explorer for anything other than downloading software that requires it (mostly Microsoft updates and tweaks), I haven't noticed any problems with IE7, but I can hardly say I have used it much.

Firefox used to drive me mad, because it was forever sending updates that trashed my collection of open window tabs. I keep about forty tabs open (with 3 GB of memory in Alexis I can afford to do that) so that it's very easy to go look up a map or a quest in World of Warcraft, or get the latest official time with sun position (www.time.gov), and I can keep up various source materials I didn't bother to collect into OneNote. When people send me email with links I let Firefox open a new tab so I can have a look before I put that link into Chaos Manor Mail or View, and that leaves a bunch of open tabs, some of them rather active. It used to be that when Firefox wanted to upgrade itself, I had to install the upgrade, close Firefox down and restart it - and discover to my horror that it didn't re-open my myriad windows.

I am pleased to report this is no longer true. Firefox with the Tab Mix Plus extension (highly recommended) now restores my session flawlessly - so long as I am using Windows XP. The situation is a bit different in Vista, and Firefox crash recovery management is still not working properly, but I am sure it is merely a question of time.

Bottom line: my practice has been to use Firefox for nearly all web browsing (in part this is due to habit, in part due to fewer security vulnerabilities in Firefox since it was never designed to have hooks deep into the operating system) and only open Internet Explorer when I need to do Microsoft downloads. Given that practice it hardly matters which version of IE I use. It's not open much of the time anyway.