Eolas work-around puts the brakes on Rich Internet Applications

Summary:Unless you recode your web pages to use the legally approved contortions, interactive content like Flash (including RIA technologies like Laszlo) won't work the same.

Well, we can't say they didn't give us plenty of warning, but I think most people didn't actually believe it would happen. But finally this week, due to a software patent lawsuit by Eolas, Microsoft was forced to start rolling out updates to Internet Explorer that use a technicality to work around the patent.

To the technically minded, the work-around makes no sense at all. Eolas basically patented the idea of embedding interactive content (like a Flash control or a Java applet) in a web page and won't let anyone else use this idea without paying them millions of dollars. The workaround? First, Microsoft made all such embedded controls on current web pages non-interactive until you enable them by clicking on them. The IE change goes to great lengths to filter any events such as key presses, mouse movement, etc. until the control is activated. This means no more shoot-the-target to get a free iPod ads (no great loss there) but also it means that RIA applications that use Flash or Java (like Thinlet) or other similar technologies will be inconvenient to use.

The second part of the work-around is that the user can avoid the extra activation step if the web page has been modified so the control isn't actually embedded in the page but is instead included from somewhere else so that it only looks embedded. Huh?

So for example it's NOT ok to use an EMBED, APPLET, or OBJECT tag right in your html file, and it's NOT ok to use a JavaScript document.write call to insert one of those tags directly in the html, but it IS ok to perform an include of a JavaScript file which does a document.write. This is why I'm not a lawyer. You can read about all the rules and exceptions here.

What about other browsers? All IE based browsers like Maxthon are immediately affected because they embed the IE Html control. Other browsers like Opera, Firefox,  Safari, and so forth that have their own rendering images are immune for the moment, but don't be surprised if they are forced by Eolas to do something similar.

The only good news in this, if there is any, is that the pages converted to use the 'pseudo-embedding but just different enough to not infringe' technique above are expected to work just fine in all browsers, if a bit more slowly as the browser will be required to make an extra round trip to the server. Also note, JavaScript must be enabled  in the user's browser because it's required to perform the work-around gyrations.

References:

Microsoft KB912945: Internet Explorer ActiveX update 

MSDN: Activating ActiveX Controls 

Adobe Macromedia's Active Content Developer Center

Apple Developer Connection: Preparing Websites with Active Content

 

Topics: Browser

About

Ed Burnette has been hooked on computers ever since he laid eyes on a TRS-80 in the local Radio Shack. Since graduating from NC State University he has programmed everything from serial device drivers and debuggers to web servers. After a delightful break working on commercial video games, Ed reluctantly returned to business software. He... Full Bio

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