On 11 April 2006, Microsoft released its latest security patches that included a non security update for Internet Explorer which changes the way the browser interacts with ActiveX controls. The change was made to address patent litigation with Eolas Technologies. In short, Eolas holds the patent for how things like flash and QuickTime / Windows Mediaplayer videos are added to a website – in any browser. A federal court in Chicago has ruled that Microsoft must pay $521 million after finding that the software giant’s Internet Explorer infringed on this patent.

What does it do and how does it affect you?

It prevents users from automatically interacting with an embedded object – like a flash movie. You have to activate it first. Now, instead of one click to get something like Adobe’s Macromedia Flash player to do something, it may take two (or in the case of an ActiveX control that used to automatically load without any clicks, now a click will be required). Seen in the screen shot of Robert Charles Photography site (below) is an example of how end-users will be prompted to click again before an ActiveX control will begin to function. The user experience is far from ideal but Microsoft has no choice as a result of the defeat it was handed the lawsuit.

There is also the issue with the many sites that use Flash to play music. Stopping it is no longer a single click experience – Click activates it + Click “pause music”.

Other applications affected by the Web browser patch include business software from Oracle’s Siebel customer relationship management unit and certain Web applications that use specific versions of Java, including older versions of Google’s Toolbar.

How does it affect video on your site?

This update has a more drastic and distracting affect on sites that have any embedded video (Real Video or Media Player etc.) will start to play. But the buttons to control the movie – something as simple like the volume control is inactive.

However when a page contains the widely used QuickTime format the user is treated to an alarming popup window that you have to ok before seeing any content at all as seen in the image below.

The web authoring community is very frustrated as this requires a huge amount of work on the part of Web author to change all of the pages they have created for past clients that involved Flash or any type of video.

The Solution

Microsoft has published several solutions for updating your web pages so that your interactive content will activate without requiring the user to click. These solutions, including a JavaScript-based solution, lets users interact with the content immediately. But in terms of complexity, this is quite simply disastrous.

The good news is there is a better solution for Flash and QuickTime content that we use at Del Padre Visual Productions called Deconcept’s. FlashObject and QTObject. FlashObject is a small Javascript file used for embedding Macromedia Flash content. The script can detect the Flash plug-in in all major web browsers (on Mac and PC) and is designed to make embedding Flash movies as easy as possible. It is also very search engine friendly.

The Good News

This is actually a blessing in disguise. Using solutions like Deconcept’s FlashObject will allow web developers to provide better alternative content to visitors that don’t have the appropriate plug-in or video player. This has always been a big problem in the flash community. Some of the current problems that most sites are currently facing not including the new Active X Microsoft patch are:

There is no plug-in detection. – With no plug-in detection, users may see broken or no content, and if there is no plug-in installed at all, they will either get the ‘ActiveX install’ dialog box on IE —a box many users now fear because of rampant spyware and malware— or the ‘strange puzzle piece’ box in Mozilla based browsers. Neither of these plug-in install systems are very user friendly, and usually don’t explain themselves very well as to what exactly a user is installing.

There is no content for search engine ranking – When people search for you in Google or other search engines, often the description text ends up showing up as “Detecting Flash Player” or even no description at all. This is a huge waste of prime website real estate that should be used to promote your company or products. Often times developers will not include a link to the other content in the site (since the Flash movie contains the links) so the rest of the site won’t be indexed either.

Unreliable plug-in Detection – Often the detection only works with current versions of the Flash player, and needs to be manually updated as new versions of the plug-in are released.

Adds more code to the page – Making it even harder to update or change your content. This method also makes it harder for designers or other people that may be working with your pages to change or add Flash movies.

An overly complicated solution – Many Flash embedding scripts can grow to large file sizes or be overly complicated. FlashObject is designed to be simple and small.

Deconcepts FlashObject can be found here:
http://blog.deconcept.com/flashobject