IE Update disables Flash. Flash navigation is stupid. If you have to embed Flash, use FlashObject.

Due to the Eolas patent case , a new update to Internet Explorer will no longer automatically allow user interaction with plugins which are embeded in webpages. Think Flash navigation, music players (Quicktime, Windows Media, Real Audio), Java applets, etc. The applets will be usable, but only once you enable them, usually by clicking on them. (see the demo screencast here ).

The update is already out on Windows Update - it's optional now, but I'm sure it will be mandatory within the next few months. It's described as a minor update, but I think people will be pretty surprised by this one.

Now, I can't say that I'm heartbroken by how this will affect my browsing experience. For one, I don't use IE all that much, and who knows if Eolas will ever enforce this patent against open source browsers since there's no money in it. More than that, though, I dislike most embedded applets that do things I didn't tell them to do . I don't like web pages that start playing music when a page loads. I think Flash navigation is annoying, inaccessible, and completely unnecessary. If a page is going to make good use of Flash or Java - actually do something interesting, like a screencast or a game - then a little click to activate it isn't that big a deal.

As a developer, though, this is kind of a pain. The thing is, there's a legal loophole that will allow automatic activation of applets as long as they're loaded via an external file, so some trivial javascript can load an activated applet without any user interaction. The reason is that the patent only covers automatic applets as long as they are directly included in the HTML file, so loading them via an external javascript file is fair game. So, in reality this is only going to be an inconvenience for web developers. Clients will know that other sites have dancing clowns and disco in their menus, so it can be done. Just do it.1

Now, the code to load Flash files (or other applets) from javascript is pretty simple, but I sure hope professional web developers will put some thought into this and avoid the temptation to just hack a bunch of javascript includes together and call it done. Here are two better solutions:

  1. Get rid of it. This especially applies to Flash navigation, for tons of reasons:
    • It's not cool anymore. Really. It stopped being cool about five years ago, now it just looks amateur. Sure there are exeptions to this rule, but odds are you're not one of them.
    • It's not accessible, and probably not very usable. That could cost you users, but more importantly it could get you in legal trouble.
    • It hurts your search engine rankings and site searchability. Some search engines will index the Flash file, but they don't interpret it. If there's any logic, database action, or external files involved there's a good chance the links won't be followed.
    • It's not very maintainable. Ease of maintenance and updatability is very important. Sites that aren't fixed and updated don't get used. It's easier to fix and deploy a spelling error or address change in a text based HTML file than in a Flash application. With Flash being one big file, you really should retest the whole thing every time you redeploy; with HTML I can make spot changes and be confident I haven't broken anything. A website built with web standards can be redesigned with a CSS file change (ala csszengarden); Flash redesigns are much more work. As a side note, in my experience no one properly versions their Flash source files. It's very rare that anyone can even find their Flash source files a year after the site has gone live.
    • It's almost always totally unnecessary. You can build really nice navigation that's cool, accessible, searchable, and maintainable with CSS and minimal javascript. You can get fancy effects - fades, animation, etc. - with some simple javascript includes and a few minutes enabling the effects via CSS (see my previous article on that here). The point is, if you're using Flash to animate and fade you're doing things wrong.
  2. If you must use Flash, use FlashObject. There are still more more problems with Flash, but FlashObject solves them:
    • There is no way to embed Flash in a page that is (a) cross-browser and (b) valid HTML / XHTML. Macromedia's sample code uses an <EMBED> tag inside an <OBJECT> so it will work in most browsers, but <EMBED> isn't a valid HTML / XHTML tag.
    • Plugin detection isn't handled by browsers. If the user doesn't have Flash installed, or has it disabled, your site looks stupid and isn't usable. Note that Flash won't currently install under non-admin user accounts, so the possbility that your user won't have Flash installed may grow over time.

      FlashObject solves both these problems - plus the disabled by default issue I mentioned before - by replacing HTML content via a javascript include. You build a page in valid (X)HTML and include a placeholder div where your Flash content will go. Then you write two lines of javascript which tells the FlashObject library to replace your div with the Flash content. The div can contain alternative content that's valid, accessible, searchable, etc., which will be be delivered to those who can't or won't view your Flash content (including search engine spiders). Since this solution loads the flash via the external FlashObject javascript include, it will be automatically enabled as well - which means that if you're using another plugin, you should first look for a prewritten include that uses a similar, and if you have to write your own that you follow this model: replace valid HTML via a simple javascript call. Here's some sample code, quoted from the FlashObject page:
<script type="text/javascript" src="flashobject.js"></script>
div id="flashcontent">
This text is replaced by the Flash movie.

script type="text/javascript">
var fo = new FlashObject("movie.swf", "mymovie", "200", "100", "7", "#336699");

1 All of the major plugin providers have provided references on how to fix this - Apple, Macromedia, Microsoft, and Real. I don't recommend following them, though, which is why they're just in a footnote.


  • Microsoft has enough weight to fight Eolas to death. See what they have done to DOJ, what they have done to Massachussetts and what they are doing to the EU. I don't buy that Eolas is genuinely showing the finger to Microsoft. I say Microsoft is deliberately &quot;ending&quot; support for ActiveX as we know them, since their competitors are taking advantage of them. Which is proven by the fact that the next version of Internet Explorer makes ActiveX components less suitable than before (default security settings, scary opt-in warning messages, ability at any point in time for someone to manage them). But the worst part of it is that I believe Microsoft has an agenda with this. See Flash videos. Wonderful technology. Much better than Windows Media et al since it's cross-platform, has a very low latency to play streams and so on. Well, don't you think Microsoft would find a valid reason to stop Flash in their way to become the dominant web-based video player? I think so.

    You can be innocent and think Microsoft is acting to do good to their customers. Especially if you are new in this industry.

  • The Ebola visus is deadly... err um, you know what I mean.

    On the other hand flash seems to be used to produce some of the most unpleasant and disruptive things on a web site.

    I would really like to be able to Stop any flash that is playing the same way I can stop an animated gif. This is &quot;my&quot; computer, do not deny me control of what happens on it.

    Stephane: Everyone has an ajenda. If you think Eolas is about being good to consumers, you should have a deeper look into the consequences of denying the real sources of the involved concepts.

    MS has the money and resources to find ways to still provide functionality without breaking the patent. What will others do if they are presented with similar terms for using the patent?

  • One day flash will rule the web it's only a matter of time.

  • "
    I would really like to be able to Stop any flash that is playing the same way I can stop an animated gif. This is "my" computer, do not deny me control of what happens on it.

    Don't use the internet.

    This in "my" website, do not deny me control of what happens on it.

  • "If a page is going to make good use of Flash or Java - actually do something interesting, like a screencast or a game - then a little click to activate it isn't that big a deal."

    i cant believe you wrote that.

  • While most of your information was interesting I felt you were a bit over the top on your hatred of flash. As a developer, if my clients want it after I tell them the reasons against it... if they still feel the same way, I use it. I understand that you don't want your browser doing something that you don't want it to. However, what about those of us who have to deal with a browser not doing what we tell it to do. I think that any browser that implements rules that limit the way it handles certain programs will be setting itself up for problems later. Granted- You are 100% correct on the fact that flash can destroy your ratings and no one SHOULD design a site entirely in flash…however, to tell someone they CAN’T design a flash site or to tell them they can but it won’t work like they want it to, That is just as obnoxious.
    To me, It appears you are speaking from the point of a developer to another developer and considering that 80% of the market share still uses ie… I would say that there aren’t that many people as technically savvy as you are that just want to look at pretty pictures. I personally work in the entertainment industry…if I were to quit using flash…I would get fired.

  • now, when I finaly made my own http-cookie backup-to-flash-cookie, Microsoft will make it unuseful !

    There are two logical ways to implement a persistent-User-marking system:

    1. the www servers marks them and those marks stays persistent..
    2. We get from them some unique ID like the MAC address..

    -- solution 1. = flashcookies
    -- solution 2. it doesn't exist (dom does not expose the MAC..)

    So any ideas?

    by Vali Leso

  • I thought that I may add my 2 cents. I am a website designer, and to me, adding flash is what sets good websites apart from the rest. Everyone has a basic html site these days, "wow, big deal you can do a little bit of html". It really gets old. If you have some cool animations, and interactive content, users acutally want to come back and visit more frequently. Why do you think that all the big websites have atleast a little flash in them if not completely flash. For example: fantasy interactive, roadrunner, 2advanced studios, the FWA (All flash and completely dynamic) and not to mention almost all movie sites. Flash is a very powerfull web tool. The fact is, learn it or get left in the dust. Because like a previous poster posted, it is the future whether you like it or not.

  • I have been a web developer for more than 10 years now and I remember listening to the same discussion, in 1997, about using jpegs. I guess jpegs are still around and my bet is that flash will be around in 10 years from now also. Personally, I think that flash can be great in the right place. While, I try to stay away from flash navigation, I think that flash can be great as a background, and in some cases, awesome as a "foreground".

  • This guy is a complete bias moron! give me a break... Flash is completely unnecessary? not everyone is as plain, boring, dull, and simple minded as you. So don't assume as much. It's moron ignorant fools like yourself that there are still useless browsers like IE out there.

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  • I'd agree that AJAX is too hard for a menu, as is Flash. Keep it simple and use HTML the way it was intended - let a link be a link. However, if you're hand-crafting AJAX code you're making it a lot harder than it needs to be. There are plenty of great AJAX libraries that have already been tested on all major browsers and are really easy to implement.

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  • I also use flashobject.

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