Microsoft patents 'HTML applications'

The patent describes a new type of application written using Web protocols, but without the security constraints of a browser

Microsoft was awarded on Tuesday a patent by the US Patents and Trademarks Office on writing Windows applications in HTML, so making it possible to bypass the built-in security that browsers offer.

According the application, the patent (no. 6,662,341) covers writing a standard HTML file that runs in its own window outside of the browser. This means, according to the filing, that the author of an HTML application file won't face the security constraints imposed by a browser. This relaxed security allows an HTML author to do things such as: read from a user's local computer; write to a user's local computer and perform scripting of frames between domains.

The patent paves the way for what it calls HTML applications -- a new file type that windows would interpret as a standalone application that could be run outside of the browser.

"Most existing Windows application development environments require knowledge of specialised computer languages such as C++, or Visual Basic," says the patent. "Learning a specialised computer language is often difficult for non-technical individuals. However, many non-technical individuals can use HTML and scripting languages, such as VBScript and Jscript (Microsoft's implementation of JavaScript)."

Because HTML and scripting languages are run inside a Web browser, they inherit the browser's user interface and security mechanisms. "Because non-technical individuals have knowledge of HTML and scripting languages, it would be advantageous to leverage such existing knowledge to implement a Windows application," says the patent. "Such applications should be free to define their own user interface elements and to run as trusted code on the system, that is, outside of the security model imposed by the Web browser. The present invention is directed to achieving this result."

Microsoft's patent appears to be platform agnostic, making it likely to apply to all operating systems including Linux and Unix. The operating system would recognise files to be run as applications by the HTML application file extension, .hta.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.