A ZDNet reader that goes only by the name of John e-mailed me yesterday to remind me that today -- April 11 2006 -- is Internet Explorer's official Eolas day of reckoning. Going out in today's superpatch Tuesday batch of patches is an update to Internet Explorer that will disable frictionless operation of ActiveX plug-ins inside of Internet Explorer. Now, instead of one click to get something like Adobe's Macromedia Flash player to do something, it may take two (or in the case of an ActiveX control that used to automatically load without any clicks, now a click will be required). Seen in the screenshot of Disney's Web site (above) is an example of how end-users will be prompted to click again before an ActiveX control will begin to function. The user experience is far from ideal but Microsoft has no choice as a result of the defeat it was handed in a patent infringement suit that was filed against the company by Eolas.
I checked in with Microsoft's Internet Platforms and Security director of Marketing Gary Schare to find out how it is that business users can actually delay the update (something the aforementioned reader pointed out to me) and, what, in general, needs to be donein order to secure the return of a more friction free environment. Via email, Schare told me:
The April IE cumulative security update goes out tomorrow and does include the ActiveX changes related to the Eolas case. The changes are really pretty minor and we’re confident most end users won’t even notice the change.
Some ActiveX controls will require an extra click before you can interact with them.
Sites can change how they embed controls to work around this and we think many will over time. Details on how sites can implement the change are at http://msdn.microsoft.com/ieupdate/.
The issue more people are worried about is line-of-business applications that use ActiveX. Again, most won’t be adversely affected, but enterprise customers have told us they need time to test. That’s why we’re providing a compatibility patch to give enterprise customers more time to get ready. Mike Nash blogged about this about 2 weeks ago.
So, the net net so far is that some ActiveX controls will require a click and the Microsoft workaround is for Web site programmers to reprogram their sites. But there's another.
As it turns out, as long as Firefox is an open source solution, Eolas will not pursue the developers of Firefox to the same corners of the Earth that it did with Microsoft. Said Eolas founder Michael Doyle in an interview with eWeek:
We have from the beginning had a general policy of providing non-commercial users royalty-free licenses. We expect to be paid for the commercial use of our technologies....We released our browser back in 1995 to the world free for non-commercial use, so that should be an indicator to people that the open-source community shouldn't have anything to fear from us. The extent that those products are used commercially by others or resold commercially, sure we expect to be talking to people who are making money through the use of that technology.
So, is it game over for Internet Explorer? Not if you ask me (even though Firefox has a significant advantage as a result of this snafu). When IE 7 comes out, it will include a bevy of features that could win back some of those who've defected to Firefox over the last couple of years. At the top of the list are a bunch of security features that make IE 7 a much more integral part of the layered security that no user or business should be without (moreso than other browsers). It's not that Firefox can't play a role in layered security. But Microsoft has extremely detailed access to the most prevalent threats on the Net and my sense is that it knows better than most what role a browser should and shouldn't play in keeping systems safe. Beyond that, robust support for RSS and great boutique features like history searchability could turn Internet Explorer from an also-ran to a contender (although marketshare indicates the IE isn't exactly an also ran, it doesn't get nearly the buzz that Firefox gets). Detailed information on the improvements due in IE 7 can be mined from Microsoft's Web site here.