Microsoft’s long-running case with Eolas has taken a worrying turn for the worst recently. Two years ago, Microsoft released a modified version of IE6 which complied with the Eolas patent lawsuit. The issue went away for some time, but with the USPTO upholding Eolas’ patent, it looks like IE7 will include the change.
A new article on MSDN explains the change. Essentially, with IE7, ActiveX controls in existing pages will not immediately respond to user interaction – so for example, a Flash animation with clickable areas that navigated to another page would not work. The control will only become active if the user clicks on it, or if it is highlighted using TAB and then either Enter or the spacebar is hit.
document.write() function it will also rule it out of some XHTML pages. There may also be a way of disabling this on a machine-by-machine basis in the registry, if I am reading the article correctly, as by default this behaviour will not affect applications like FeedDemon which embed the Internet Explorer WebControl.
On the other hand, this will, at least for the time being, make other browsers like Firefox and Opera more attractive, because they are not subject to this change. There is, of course, no guarantee that Eolas won’t go after other browser vendors in future, even if the head of Eolas said that this would not be the case.
While I like Firefox, I do think Eolas’ actions were grossly unfair against Microsoft. Sure, they own the patent, but they have not actually done anything with it as far as I can tell – Microsoft, on the other hand, has deployed it far and wide. Users and web designers alike are facing a headache in order to comply with this – users will find old sites not working, while designers will have to comply with it. With the patent in question not due to expire for at least another 10 years, I doubt Microsoft will be able to put off not complying through further legal action.
Update: There’s more information about this story from the Web Standards Project.