LAS VEGAS -Conspicuously absent from Microsoft’s annual MIX conference here was any discussion by the software giant about whether it plans to change the way ActiveX will run in Internet Explorer 8.
Some security experts, like Will Dormann, a vulnerability analyst at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute CERT/CC, are calling for ActiveX to be disabled from running by default in IE 8.
Dormann is telling IE users that they should, from a security perspective, disable ActiveX controls from running by default. “It would be nice if this is something Microsoft did with the next version of the browser,” he said.
But Chris Swenson, the director of software industry analysis at the NPD Group disagrees with such a drastic approach. There are far too many Active X controls in circulation, including Flash, and many PC users rely on them, Swenson said.
“Disabling ActiveX would in many ways break the Web, especially in the areas of rich media and rich Internet application consumption. This was the fear a few years back when Microsoft was sued and the plaintiff argued that ActiveX violated their patent,” Swenson told eWEEK.
“Microsoft, Macromedia and others really thought the suit might break the Web as we knew it but, thankfully, it didn’t get to that point,” he said.
With regard to the absence of information about whether IE 8 will include anti-malware blockers, anti-virus integration or changes to dangerous ActiveX-related defaults, Swenson said that Dean Hachamovitch, the general manager for Internet Explorer, had told him that they really wanted to focus here at MIX on the improvements to IE 8 that developers have been clamoring for.
Microsoft is trying to convey to Web developers and Web designers that it understands their pain points, especially the necessity to tweak pages to take into consideration the peculiarities of different Web browsers, Swenson said. That is why Microsoft has focused on building new features to help alleviate those issues, he said.
“By supporting CSS 2.1, HTML 5 and other Web standards in IE 8, Web designers and Web developers can spend less time tweaking their code to look good in different browsers, and more time creating great Web experiences,” said Swenson.
“The integrated developer tools will, no doubt, help Web designers and developers quickly identify what might be wrong with their existing code, and help them make changes quickly and efficiently,” he said.
Microsoft Watch editor Joe Wilcox weighs in
Microsoft is also trying to let developers know that while some Web sites will look different in IE 8 than they do in IE 7, it is not trying to break the Web with the new browser, Swenson said.
“Microsoft is going to hold developer’s hands, helping them update their sites to be more compatible with IE 8. The IE 7 compatibility button is a great start, but Microsoft is probably going to do a lot more in this regard,” he said.
But not everyone is bullish about IE 8. Microsoft Watch editor Joe Wilcox questions whether Microsoft’s strategy for the Web browser is about adhering to Web standards or controlling them.
He also believes that the software giant’s objectives for the new browser are absolutely clear: pull computing and informational relevance back to the desktop.
“It’s classic Microsoft bundling at work, as the company seeks to make the new browser more of a development platform than it is today. I call it the Netscape strategy,” he said.
But analyst Swenson disagrees with that, saying part of the reason Netscape failed was because they started adding too much to the browser, including an email client and a Web authoring tool.
“Many Web developers and designers hated coding for Netscape. Thus, Netscape failed to deliver the product that end users wanted … Microsoft has to be very careful when adding features to IE, taking care not to make the same mistakes that Netscape made,” he said.
Some of Microsoft’s partners, like Facebook and Me.dium, have already started developing applications for IE 8.
Facebook is an early adopter of WebSlices for IE 8. WebSlices behave just like feeds, where clients can subscribe to get updates and notify the user of changes.
“Making it simpler for users to share information and keep up with their friends is core to Facebook. With WebSlices, Facebook users can easily follow their friends’ status updates through the browser,” company spokesman Matt Hicks told eWeek.
Me.dium, a real-time, social browsing sidebar application that enables users to surf the Web with friends, see popular sites online, and discover new people and places based on the activity of others, will help surfers discover and view new WebSlices directly from the sidebar.
“In addition to implementing Webslices on the Me.dium profile pages, Me.dium now helps surfers discover and view WebSlices directly from the sidebar,” co-founder David Mandell said.
And, as Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1’s new “Activities” feature allows users to quickly access a contextual service from any webpage, Me.dium’s “Discover” Activity gives recommendations related to a page or selected key words, which are influenced by the real time surfing activity of all Me.dium users, he said.