Eolas: Changing IE User Experience a Shame

The startup at the center of a multimillion dollar patent dispute with Microsoft reacts to the software maker's decision to modify the way Internet Explorer renders embedded content.

Eolas Technologies says the decision by Microsoft to modify its Internet Explorer browser at the expense of a seamless user experience is a "disappointment" and a "shame."

Reacting to news that the next cumulative IE security update will require an extra mouse-click to interact with certain embedded multimedia content, Eolas Chief Operating Officer Mark Swords called on the software maker to purchase a patent license instead of worsening the browsing experience.

In an interview with eWEEK, Swords declined to respond to questions regarding the ongoing litigation, which is wending its way through an appeals process, but insisted that the Chicago-based company is open to negotiating a settlement that allows Microsoft to license its technology.

"Microsoft is apparently of the position that this [IE modification] helps their litigation position. I cant comment on the specifics of whether thats true or not. Our position remains the same. We are ready to have reasonable discussions on licensing the technology," Swords said.

He said the IE modifications spelled out by Microsoft, which will reportedly disrupt the way online advertising and streaming media content is delivered over the Internet, is an inconvenience users could do without.

"Ive seen the reaction in the media and elsewhere that this is an action that could actually worsen the user experience. If thats true, that would be a disappointment and a shame. It will probably lead to a lot of complaints," Swords added.

Asked if Eolas had tested the new version of IE, which is already available as an optional download, Swords declined to answer. "I cant comment on any specifics," he said repeatedly.

Swords also moved swiftly to correct an erroneous public impression that the IE modifications were the result of a court order. "There is no court order forcing Microsoft to do anything. Anything that is being done is of Microsofts own choosing," he said.

"Its clear that the ruling of infringement stands. We are going through an appeals process on some very narrow issues," Swords said, referring to the August 2003 jury verdict that Microsoft must pay $521 million for infringing on Eolas patent.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about the Microsoft-Eolas browser patent fight.

Some widely-deployed programs that use ActiveX controls within the browser include Adobes Reader and Flash, Apples QuickTime Player, Microsofts Windows Media Player, RealNetworks RealPlayer and Suns JVM (Java Virtual Machine).

A white paper detailing the ActiveX changes has been published on the MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network).

By Microsofts own admission, IE users will only be able to interact with Microsoft ActiveX controls loaded in certain Web pages after manually activating their user interfaces by clicking on it or using the Tab and Enter keys.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant is moving full steam ahead with plans to permanently change the way IE renders ActiveX controls loaded by the APPLET, EMBED, or OBJECT elements, but, in an acknowledgement that the changes will cause some disruption, the company is giving Web developers an extra 60 days to finish re-authoring Web sites.

On April 11, the new version of IE will be distributed as a mandatory download. New computers that ship with Windows will also include the ActiveX change, but Microsoft is offering a one-time "compatibility patch" that will be deployed like a hotfix to let users turn off the changes through June.

During the grace period, Microsoft is recommending that the temporary hotfix not be applied to all machines because another IE update scheduled for June will override all changes.

/zimages/1/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.