Microsoft to alter IE in response to Eolas defeat

Microsoft is planning a strategic retreat in its battle with Eolas over the use of applets within a browser.

In an update to Internet Explorer due early next year, the company will no longer allow applets to run by default. Instead, users will have to learn to switch them on manually by clicking on an ActiveX control before it will activate.

In a post on the Microsoft Developers’ Network, the company warns the developer community: ‘After a forthcoming update, Microsoft Internet Explorer users will not be able to directly interact with Microsoft ActiveX controls loaded by the APPLET, EMBED, or OBJECT elements. Users will be able to interact with such controls after activating their user interfaces.’

Among the software programs most likely to be affected by the changes are some of the most popular applications on the Web. Among the software that embeds itself into Web pages and is likely to be affected are Apple’s QuickTime, Macromedia Flash, Adobe’s Acrobat Reader, RealOne Player, Sun’s Java Virtual Machine, and Windows Media Player. However, controls that do not require user interaction are thought to be unaffected.

The changes are being forced on the software giant as it runs out of legal remedies. In 2003, Eolas and the University of California won a case against Microsoft claiming that they owned the patents for embedded controls within a browser. As a result, Microsoft was ordered to pay $521 million in damages. Because of delays in settlement and interest accrued, this has now swollen to some $560 million.

Last month Microsoft lost a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court that attempted to mitigate the effects of the Eolas victory by, for example, limiting it to the US only. When the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Microsoft was left with little choice but to comply. However, the company still hopes the appeal the ruling while working round the patent in the meantime.

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