Microsoft will start automatically upgrading Windows users to the latest version of Internet Explorer from early next year, in a bid to improve security by ensuring that as many people as possible have the most up-to-date version of the browser.

This new initiative, which was disclosed in Microsoft's Exploring IE blog, will kick off in January for Windows users in Australia and Brazil, scaling out over time to other territories.

The move is being interpreted by many as a push to finally get rid of the ageing and idiosyncratic IE6 version of the browser, but the upgrade will also affect IE7 and IE8 users.

The news comes as figures from web metrics firm StatCounter showed that Google's Chrome 15 browser has overtaken Internet Explorer 8 in popularity for the first time.

However, users will be able to opt out if they do not use IE or if they want to upgrade at their own pace, Microsoft said.

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