Microsoft will release Internet Explorer version 7 on November 1st. All Windows XP users who have automatic updates turned on (which includes most XP users) will receive the update automatically. This will be somewhat of a mixed blessing.
To be sure, Internet Explorer version 7 will add several new features that have been in other web browsers for a long time. Tabbed browsing is the most visible of the new features. Once you realize you can open several web sites simultaneously within one instance of Internet Explorer, you will wonder how you every got along without it. Of course, Firefox, Opera, and other web browsers have had that capability for some time.
Internet Explorer version 7 also fixes several security issues. Security fixes are a good thing most of the time, but some web sites will no longer be usable with the new browser. Of course, Microsoft says that the problem is with the sites that do not conform to Microsoft's "standards." Those who created the sites like to point out that Microsoft's "standards" are different from everyone else's. In fact, Microsoft has never handled cascading style sheets in accordance with established web standards. Who's right and who is wrong? I don't think it makes any difference; the user loses, regardless of which party is at fault.
I have the latest beta version of Internet Explorer version 7 installed on one of my Windows systems and cannot view two of my favorite non-genealogy web sites with it. The sites display perfectly in Internet Exploder version 6, as well as in Firefox, Opera, Safari (a Macintosh web browser), and Konqueror (a Linux web browser), but not in Internet Explorer version 7.
I have long avoided Microsoft's first release of any new product. Microsoft has a reputation of releasing buggy code in version 1.0 of almost all the company's products, then fixing the bugs in release 1.1 or perhaps in release 2.0. Knowledgeable Windows users often wait for version 1.1 before upgrading any Microsoft product. However, choices are limited this time. According to Microsoft's announcement at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/updatemanagement/windowsupdate/ie7announcement.mspx, anyone who has Windows XP Auto-Updates turned on will receive the new version. Of course, you can turn Auto-Updates off, if you like. However, that means you will also miss out on the frequent security fixes that Microsoft releases. I wouldn't want to leave my PC exposed to major security problems, especially when Microsoft has already issued a fix.
In short, I would suggest that you leave Windows Auto-Updates turned on, but keep an eye open for the update that adds Internet Explorer version 7 to your system. After that, anything that "looks funny" on the web should be blamed on Microsoft, not on the web site owner.
Of course, you can do what I and millions of others have done: install Firefox or Opera web browsers and avoid the Microsoft hassles entirely. I still have Internet Explorer installed, but I do not use it much. I use Firefox as my preferred web browser.
Internet Explorer version 7 will be available only for "genuine" Windows XP with Service Pack 2, Windows XP 64-bit Edition, and Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1. The word "genuine" is Microsoft's euphemism for a non-pirated copy. Anyone running Windows 98, Windows ME, or Windows 2000 is out of luck; Microsoft says it will never update Internet Explorer for those operating systems. Those users will be left with all the bugs and security problems of Internet Explorer version 6.
I would suggest that anyone running Windows 98, Windows ME, or Windows 2000 should obtain one of the free web browsers that do not have Internet Explorer's security problems: Firefox or Opera.
For more information about the November 1 release of Internet Explorer version 7, look at Microsoft's announcement at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/updatemanagement/windowsupdate/ie7announcement.mspx.