It's the end of the web as we know it (not)

It's the end of the web as we know it (not)

Summary: One of the patches included with this week's updates from Microsoft causes a change in behavior to some web pages. Judging by the commentary, the web must be pretty fragile. Apparently, one click is enough to bring it to its knees.

TOPICS: Browser

Earlier this week, Microsoft released a bundle of updates for Windows, including a Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer that fixes several bugs and is classified as Critical. The rollup also includes a change in the behavior of ActiveX, required by court order when Microsoft lost a patent judgment to Eolas last September.

The guy who invented the World Wide Web thinks the patent should be declared invalid, and the case is still winding its way through the appeals process.

Meanwhile, if you installed this week's updates (as I hope you did) the change is now in effect. And if you read news stories about its impact you’ll probably think it’s the end of the web as we know it. Oh, really?

Brian Krebs of the Washington Post calls it “disruptive.” My colleague David Berlind says the Eolas patch will “hobble IE” and give Firefox a big advantage. Gregg Keizer at says this change will “break the browser” and alienate IT pros.

Must be a slow news week. This change means users have to click a browser window or a dialog box one extra time to activate a control before using it. Here’s what the change looks like for an embedded Flash control:


And here’s what it looks like on a page that uses an embedded QuickTime animation:


That’s it. You click once to continue, and then everything is just as before. I tried this on a half-dozen different sites and it didn’t even rise to the level of annoyance. In fact, for Flash/Shockwave animations and embedded QuickTime multimedia (the most likely place where you’ll run into the change), activating the control on one page renders it usable for all other sites as long as you use the same browser window. So that’s actually one click per session, not per page or even per site.

If you use Firefox, this is a non-issue. In a month or two, this will be mostly irrelevant for IE users as well. Web page designers can (and will) recode their pages so that they load properly. Apple and Macromedia will no doubt produce new versions of their ActiveX controls that are activated by default. At which point the problem will go away for any sites using those controls.

One click. That’s enough to disrupt, hobble, and break the web as we know it?

Like I said, slow news week.

Topic: Browser

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  • Wow

    This single feature will probably do more to close IE security holes than any single thing I can think of. No more automatic running of active X controls? Hallelujah!

    And, even better, you get an automatic flash ads filter. I love it.
    • Actiive X

      Active X was clearly the wrong technology to carry plug-in's, but
      how is it that other Browsers can make this work without hooks
      into the OS? The Active-X Browser relationship was entrenched
      during the antitrust trial as Microsoft argued that the browser
      was not capable of being separated from the OS. Did you believe
      that then? Do you believe it now? Meanwhile, hooray! no more
      flash ads. Do you really think that ads are going to go away? Do
      you assume that Flash, a benign and capable technology is
      responsible for the design and marketing choices imposed upon
      it? How will you feel as your current ability to block ads
      dissapears as they all become animated gifs. Finally, do you
      think for a minute that Microsoft hasn't got a rich web layer in
      the wings, ads included.

      More than anything else, this is about pulling the rug out from
      under Flash and Quicktime.
      Harry Bardal
      • Firefox is violating the patent also

        But Eolas said they're not going to sue as long as FF is noncommercial.
        Ed Bott
        • Same Rules

          I'd recommend Firefox fork over too if it was asked of them. It's
          also possible Eolas has the same low opinion of Microsoft that I
          do. They are likely giving Safari a pass because it's built on open
          source with healthy contributions funneled back from Apple. It's
          also web standards compliant. If they do go after Apple, they
          should pay too.

          Microsoft meanwhile is trying to pull another Java, steal
          protocols for their profit, leave consumers in the lurch, impede
          3rd party software, and in so doing, funnel more creative
          content through MS licenses to further lock in consumers. And
          yes, all this happens with a "ok" to Active-X. It reactivates a
          technology with deep OS hooks that never should have been
          active in a browser. Plug ins should work without requiring
          Active-X. But hey, you just agreed to this over our safe
          trustworthy new XAML. It's your problem for prefering 3rd party
          code. Microsoft, having proven the least trustworthy vendor,
          gets to say what is trustworthy. It's time you considered the

          The usual support is comes in the form of blithe indifference
          from the big herd. This time MS also gets to play the sympathy
          card and blame mean Eolas for a patent attack.

          You folks just are not getting it.
          Harry Bardal
        • Eolas is being practical

          There's no money to be had from Firefox. Yes, on technical grounds they could go after them, but how much money would they get? And if they got a favorable judgement, it would probably kill FF as a project because no one would want the liability. And I can imagine Eolas's founder wouldn't want to be responsible for that happening. He seems to have an affinity for OSS. At least with MS there was the possibility of getting royalties.

          [i]But Eolas said they're not going to sue as long as FF is noncommercial.[/i]

          IE is commercial? Funny. MS gives it away with the OS. Perhaps what you mean is that they won't go after FF so long as it remains OSS run by a non-profit group and isn't bought by a commercial entity.

          The question in my mind is why don't they go after Opera? Isn't it commercial? Probably the same reason. Can't squeeze blood from turnip.
          Mark Miller
          • Opera is now free

            As of a few months ago. Although the company is commercial and presumably has a business model that derives income from its browser.
            Ed Bott
  • Why Microsoft Didn't Pay

    Microsoft, the champion of indemnity, violated the Eolas patent
    and has now refused to compensate. The degree of
    inconvenience is less the issue. Credibility is.

    Let's talk about what this really involves. Rich web apps are
    going to be offered by Microsoft through leveraging XAML and
    the new Vista rendering engine. Meanwhile Adobe buys
    Macromedia and a firmly entrenched Flash developer base. For
    those of you who gripe about Flash ads - could we please for a
    moment separate design and marketing choices from the benign
    underlying technology? Both players are in the position to
    compete fairly with one another? Not anymore, an impediment,
    however slight has been put in place by Microsoft not
    indemnifying it's customers and continuing the level of
    functionality it had promised. They don't break the letter of the
    law - they just betray consumers, a small price to pay. This is
    another anticompetitive maneuver to subvert a developer base
    and use the OS as a blunt instrument.

    Ed would have us believe that the Active-X Window is no
    problem in a arena of competition measured in hundreths of
    seconds. It is a problem, the workaround is a problem, and the
    restriction of open competition is a problem.

    Rich web functionality is an inevitability. It's as inevitable as
    Microsoft's lingering dishonesty.
    Harry Bardal
    • Harry is the dishonest one

      Come on Harry, what is your real reason for your spewing the garbage about Microsoft. If it wasn't them it would be somebody else but their offering web browsers free is what helped create the www as we know it. Sure as hell wasn't Netscape who in the first charges not only for the browser but for every upgrade they made to it.

      Now look at them fighting back, mostly by whining and complaining about the competition just like you. Get a Life Man
    • Response time is an issue with the web?

      Even with my broadband connection things on the web are sluggish compared to what I can do with a thick client app. So I don't see the point in complaining about how much time it takes. That's a given with the web. What is a little jarring about the change is it's counter-intuitive. What I've often seen happen with ActiveX controls on pages with the patch applied is when I click on the control the page jumps a bit, and the control doesn't respond. I then have to click it again.

      True, once pages are recoded this activation step won't even be necessary. It's just a pain for web developers.
      Mark Miller
    • And now they want to legalize spyware?

      Well, according to they do! They want to police pirated and otherwise incorrectly licensed software by being permitted to insert monitoring software on thier users' (and that would be one or two) computers. Also NOT!