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Doctor Q
Oct 17, 2003, 03:20 PM
As a result of a patent infringement court case won by Eolas Technologies Inc. and the University of California, Microsoft is planning a change, early in 2004, to Internet Explorer that will affect millions of users and millions of web pages. As a result of the change, when a user of Internet Explorer for Windows views a page with "active" content (QuickTime, Flash, Shockwave, Java, etc.), I.E. will prompt the user with a dialog box once for each active component on the page. The "user experience" will be awful.

To avoid the problem, almost every single web page that uses <applet>, <embed>, or <object> tags needs an adjustment to the way these tags are coded. The recommended technique is to add external Javascript files containing functions that use document.write() to create the embedded object code.

Safari users will not be affected when such changes are made to web pages. Since Microsoft is no longer developing Internet Explorer for Macintosh, I don't think Mac users of I.E. will be affected either. But, unless the court ruling is reversed, webmasters (like me) and people with personal web sites will have to deal with this issue if Windows users access their web sites.

Apple, Macromedia, and RealNetworks have provided instructions for updating web pages. Macromedia is developing tools, including tools for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, to automate the process in the most common cases.

In a press release, Microsoft called the new behavior of I.E. a "modest change". I think a change that causes webmasters everywhere to have to rewrite pages or reprogram their content management systems is a change of huge proportions. I can't even imagine how many person-hours of work these changes will entail for corporations and institutions.

As far as I can tell, Microsoft is making the change not because of a legal requirement, but instead to avoid having to pay royalties to Eolas or the University of California. But this will cost the rest of the world millions of dollars. Apple is supporting Microsoft's appeal of the court ruling.

Relevant links:

Microsoft's Internet Explorer update notice (http://msdn.microsoft.com/ieupdate/)

Microsoft's press release (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2003/oct03/10-06EOLASpr.asp)

News story on court case (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/143302_msfteolas10.html)

Apple summary (http://developer.apple.com/internet/ieembedfix.html)

Apple FAQ (http://developer.apple.com/internet/ieembedfaq.html)

Apple instructions for web page updating (http://developer.apple.com/internet/ieembedprep.html)

Macromedia summary (http://www.macromedia.com/devnet/activecontent/)

RealNetworks summary (http://www.realnetworks.com/resources/howto/embedded/iechanges/index.html)

Rower_CPU
Oct 17, 2003, 03:59 PM
This has been a big topic of discussion on most web developers' blogs for a couple of months.

Some people go so far as to say the MS lost on purpose to cause problems for other browser developers, but I think this issue is too big for MS to do that. Let's hope the ruling gets overturned.

Doctor Q
Oct 17, 2003, 04:17 PM
I don't understand what the actual technical issue is. If Internet Explorer is required to prompt users when it encouters active content in order for Microsoft to avoid royalty payments, then how can a web page that generates the tags a different way not leave I.E. subject to the same prompting requirement?

solvs
Oct 17, 2003, 04:26 PM
This is going to be a very bad thing. Sometimes I wonder if M$ really is evil, or just incompetant. What are they thinking? :confused:

Rower_CPU
Oct 17, 2003, 05:18 PM
Originally posted by Doctor Q
I don't understand what the actual technical issue is. If Internet Explorer is required to prompt users when it encouters active content in order for Microsoft to avoid royalty payments, then how can a web page that generates the tags a different way not leave I.E. subject to the same prompting requirement?

As I understand it, the javascript calls to "active content" bypass the actual "embedding" of content in the page. No <embed> tags, no patent infringement.

Which brings up the topic of British Telecom's attempt to patent hyperlinks. Both pretty ridiculous situations.

Doctor Q
Oct 17, 2003, 05:31 PM
Originally posted by Rower_CPU
As I understand it, the javascript calls to "active content" bypass the actual "embedding" of content in the page. No <embed> tags, no patent infringement.If you look at this from the web surfer's perspective, being asked whether to invoke active content would be considered a security feature. In that point of view, being asked once per object, not once per page, and not being able to turn off the prompts as a user option will be infuriating, and the ability for web sites to use Javascript to hide the active content from the prompt is a security hole. So we are seeing Microsoft promote the use of web page tricks to take advantage of a security hole in Internet Explorer!

Rower_CPU
Oct 17, 2003, 05:41 PM
Yeah, it's kludgy and wrong on so many levels.

ShadowHunter
Oct 17, 2003, 05:46 PM
Is this a case of Microsoft making the user experience hell as a "you wanted us to not be a monopoly, so here ya go" message? Or is it more along the lines of blackmail, so users will complain and the antitrust stuff will have to slow down?