Eolas work-around puts the brakes on Rich Internet Applications

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.

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TOPICS: Browser
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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

 

Topic: Browser

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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10 comments
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  • Are We Moving Towards Regular Patent Updates?

    I?m just waiting for the effects of software patent landmines to increase ten fold. Maybe they will have patent updates about as often as they have OS security updates. :-)
    P. Douglas
  • I don't get the double-standard...

    Seems to me that there's oh so much support and sympathy for poor microsoft in this case, but if they had acted properly at the beginning and addressed the licensing issue when they should have, things likely would be a lot different today...and in a better way. The thing is, they tried to do an end-run around the patent and it didn't work. now they're doing a 'work-around'...

    it's a bit late now, but is it really so tht MS can get away with things like this AND me made to look the victim by the media and it gets swallowed by us all? seems to me the real victims are the patent holder and us users since if ms HAD acted honorably in the beginning, everyone would have benefited...and would have been enjoying them for many years now, instead of the half-axed stuff we've been dealt over the years as a result.
    BobbbyRay
    • You've Got To Be Kidding

      [i]seems to me the real victims are the patent holder and us users since if ms HAD acted honorably in the beginning, everyone would have benefited...and would have been enjoying them for many years now, instead of the half-axed stuff we've been dealt over the years as a result.[/i]

      How would users of IE benefit from MS paying fees it deems unreasonable? Don?t you know when companies cannot absorb costs, they pass them on to their customers? All patents are doing is adding cost, inconvenience, and the ?dumbing? down of technology in the software industry. Patents overall have contributed little to the development of the software industry. In fact, all indications are that patents will soon be the greatest threat to the software industry. (I still cannot figure out why MS holds on so tightly to patents when it is several times more toxic to the company than GPL type OSS.)
      P. Douglas
      • Patents...

        "(I still cannot figure out why MS holds on so tightly to patents when it is several times more toxic to the company than GPL type OSS.)"

        I can't help but think that it's a sort of MAD scenario. If someone tries to sue Microsoft on patent issues, they can likely turn around and sue on different issues.
        Third of Five
    • Precedent

      I don't care if it's MS or not, whenever anybody caves in this kind of thing it helps establish a precedent that can be used against the next target.
      Ed Burnette
  • Mixed emotions.

    I don't like SW patents. OTOH, I like MS even less. So long as Eolas keeps its promise not to go after FOSS browsers, I'm happy.
    Henry Miller
    • The enemy

      [i]I don't like SW patents. OTOH, I like MS even less. So long as Eolas keeps its promise not to go after FOSS browsers, I'm happy.[/i]

      The old, "enemy of my enemy is my friend" routine. As has been proven by history, countless other fools have believed this to their own demise.

      Just because they promised not to sue your free software club for violating their patent, doesn't mean they won't later change their mind when they need to buy some new bling for themselves.
      Spacely Spacerockets
      • A nit...

        The actual arabic translates more accurately to "The enemy of my enemy is my *ally*".

        A subtle but crucial difference.
        wolf_z
  • Some real nonsense in the workaround...

    "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."

    So who would directly include JavaScript anyway? We always include it from a separate .js file so that the browser caches it. In any case, this seems like a trivial workaround...if I'm understanding all this correctly, I'm not sure what the point of the lawsuit was, because it effectively changes nothing from the user standpoint.
    Techboy_z
  • Not quite true

    "...and won't let anyone else use this idea without paying them millions of dollars."

    It's only Microsoft that Eolas won't let use the idea without paying millions of dollars. Open-source browsers won't be targetted, according to Eolas.

    Carl Rapson
    rapson