Microsoft Alters IE Over Eolas Suit

 
 
By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2003-10-07
 
 
 

Microsoft Corp. late Monday announced a series of changes to Internet Explorer to address a recent jury verdict against it in a Web browser patent infringement lawsuit.

New retail and OEM versions of Windows XP will have a modified version of Internet Explorer 6 in early 2004 but Microsoft has not yet determined whether it also will alter IE service packs or downloads, said Michael Wallent, general manager of the Windows Client Platform at Microsoft.

Microsoft in August lost a $521 million jury verdict in a lawsuit filed by Eolas Technologies Inc. and the University of California which alleges that the software giant infringed on a patent for the embedding and invoking of interactive applications, such as plug-ins and applets, in Web browsers. No final judgment has been issued in the case

In the modified IE, Microsoft is changing the way the browser handles Web pages that use Microsofts ActiveX Controls, its version of an applet, including Macromedia Flash, Apple QuickTime, Real Networks RealOne, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Sun Java Virtual Machine and Windows Media Player.

The change will mean that Web developers must update methods used in Web pages with ActiveX Controls or users will face a dialog box asking them to click "OK" for the Web browser to load the control, Microsoft officials said.

"This is not something where the users need to take immediate action," Wallent said. "When you buy a new PC next year, it will have the new behavior."

With the IE changes, Microsoft is working around the alleged infringement by having Web developers use non-infringing methods for calling ActiveX Controls or by making end users manually seek them. Microsoft and other software vendors are developing documentation for Web developers that outlines alternative methods for authoring Web pages that will avoid the dialog box. Information is available on MSDN.

Microsoft also has provided a test version of the altered Internet Explorer 6 to run alongside current version at that Web site, and the company plans to add a standard Windows Update download of the modified IE that will overwrite current versions in a few days, Wallent said.

"This has been a relatively narrow change to the product," Wallent said.

Microsoft previously had indicated during a World Wide Web Consortium meeting in San Francisco in August that it was prepping changes to IE. In the end, the company decided to make changes to avoid any accruing liability if it lost a planned appeal of the jury verdict and because there could be the risk of an injunction as the case proceeds, Wallent said.

"We needed to make sure that the flow of Windows out to the customers is uninterrupted," he said.

The jury verdict has cause ripples throughout the Web community, even leading the W3C to form an advisory group to determine whether it needs to make any changes to the Webs basic language, HTML. Eolas Founder Michael Doyle, though, has said that the community instead should be pressuring Microsoft to settle the case.

Along with the W3C, Microsoft has consulted with other vendors in making change to IE and in advising developers and users of the changes, Wallent said. These include companies such as Apple Computer Corp., Macromedia and RealNetworks, all three of which have links for developers on Microsofts IE developers site.

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