Microsoft alters IE 6 to comply with court ruling

Microsoft has served notice that it intends to comply with the court order to remove automatic activation for ActiveX controls from Internet Explorer. The company has issued a ‘Non Security Update’ for Internet Explorer 6 to users as part of the automatic updates process.

The change has been forced on the software giant following its long running legal battle with technology firm Eolas.

In 2003, Eolas won a historical $520 million (plus interest) court case, which established that it owns the patent on self-executing applets on a web page. Despite Microsoft appeals both to the US Patent Office and the Supreme Court the patent has been held to be valid. Now Microsoft has run out of legal remedies it has no choice but to comply with judgment.

After the ‘update’ has been applied it will no longer be possible for users to interact with these applications unless they have been activated – in other words the user has to physically enable them. The changes only apply to operations that require no interaction. So, for example, if a website were to automatically open Window Media Player to play some music on opening that is fine. However, if a music file is loaded, Media Player would have to be ‘switched on’ before it could play the tune. However, Microsoft is offering advice to developers in the form of scripts which provide workarounds to the restrictions.

Among the applications that will be affected by the change are some of the most widely used programs on the Internet, including the Adobe Reader, Apple QuickTime Player, Macromedia Flash, Microsoft Windows Media Player, Real Networks RealPlayer and the Sun Java Virtual Machine.

The patch is available as a download now and Microsoft expects to convert the majority of Internet Explorer users for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 as part of their regular updates over the coming months. The forthcoming IE 7 and Windows Vista will have the update built in.

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