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> I don't get why it doesn't auto-update itself - if browsers like Chrome or Firefox can auto-update themselves automatically, why can't the Java plugin?

It's better that they don't. There are often subtle differences between versions. Sometimes it causes some JDBC drivers to fail. Sometimes it can cripple entire platforms like 1.7 did with Solr for instance.

Even between minor versions / security updates?

I don't remember which exactly version I think 1.6_10 and 1.6_21 had some differences in way Hibernate communicates with JDBC, so basically app worked on my colleagues computer but not mine. It took quite some time to figure out this problem.

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