Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, May 18, 2006

ActiveX Errors Won't Go Away With The New Internet Explorer: Microsoft IE Problems With Flash/Quicktime/Active Content Sites Are Still Here

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I was working on version 2 of RSS DreamFeeder, when I got an email from an old customer. She was asking if there was an update to an old product I had made several years ago called IEWebFix. I had to tell her no, but that I'd be happy to offer her an old version (which, as it turns out, she already had).


IEWebFix is a product I originally introduced in October 2003. It was created to allow web developers to prepare their websites for Internet Explorer 6, which was in Beta testing at the time. The problem with it was that the new version of IE would prompt the user before downloading any active content element contained on any Web page.

Microsoft had changed their browser to this new behavior because they had lost a lawsuit to a small company called Eolas. Eolas claimed that Microsoft's ActiveX technology infringed on their patents, and that Microsoft had to pay them or stop having smoothly integrated active content elements in their web pages. And so Microsoft's solution was to break the pages that web developers had so painstakingly created.

That was several years ago, and thankfully for web developers this behavior never made it into the shipping software.

So what is all this fuss about IE three years later?

The little known problem is that what I believed would never make it out of beta testing has made it out of the lab and onto user's computers. While up to now this change was only shown in beta versions of the IE browser, a recent security patch to IE for XP SP2 has put this out in the real world, and what was only theoretical before has now become a part of your website's audience.

That's right, Microsoft shipped this new behavior as part of a "Non Security Update" patch to Explorer in April.

Flash Animations, QuickTime Movies and Java Applets seamlessly integrated into the rest of the content on a webpage or website has been the hallmark of some of the best and most effective web design on the web. But this change in Internet Explorer breaks that seamless continuum by disabling active content or even going so far as to prompt the user before displaying active content elements (placed using object, embed, applet tags).


This is no small thing, as this issue is going to affect millions of web sites with animations, movies, slides, java, etc.

It is so important that Adobe issued a new version of Dreamweaver (8.0.2) just last week to address the issue.

For those of you that don't remember, this isn't the first time Microsoft has pushed a change in active content. Years ago we had to switch from EMBED tags (Netscape plugins) to a mix of OBJECT/EMBED tags -- OBJECT for Explorer and EMBED for all the other browsers. Now Microsoft's OBJECT tag is under attack, and web developers are stuck doing the heavy lifting once again.

To refresh your memory, here are a good set of links to the latest news stories on the above Microsoft lawsuit and the ensuing consequences for the IE browser:

Internet Explorer 7 Could Impose Websites to Upgrade Security Systems
October 28, 2005 -

Microsoft Must Comply to Eolas and Change ActiveX on IE
December 6, 2005 -

Microsoft Ships IE (Eolas) Update
February 28, 2006 -

Microsoft Rolls Out IE6 ActiveX Change
March 1, 2006 -

The Eolas Lawsuit Forces Microsoft to Release Update for IE6
March 1, 2006 -

Eolas Update: Microsoft Alters IE 6 to Comply with Court Ruling
March 3, 2006 -

Microsoft Delays IE's ActiveX D-Day
March 28, 2006 -

Now Microsoft claims that the new behavior (which now shows tooltips instead of dialog boxes, but still gets in the way) is minimally invasive.

Of course Microsoft does not want to see that broke is broke. Annoying beeping dialogs that prevented the user from doing anything else were definitely worse, but little tooltips that say "Click to use this thing" doesn't really fix the problem either. The goal of web design is seamless presentation and interaction, and Microsoft just pulled at the stitching.

Of course, there's a way to fix this, and get around the problem.

Microsoft left hooks so that if the active content is generated from a JavaScript function the active element would be, well, active. No clicking to use the thing, and then clicking on the thing to use it. But JavaScript isn't simple, and those that struggled to master HTML may find it intimidating. (But you can do it, and its not too hard -- see this tutorial -- or you can leave it to my IEWebFix to do it for you).

By the way, the real solution, I believe, lies in the fact that the old plugin method is still part of the code.

Not being a lawyer and not knowing all the details of the case I can not speak with authority, but if Microsoft changed it's active content method back to the plugin (EMBED) method it might be able to establish reliable prior art, and independent inventions. The plugin technique is old, open source, and the code is already in the pages, so no one would have to rewrite anything.

Sometimes old software is good software. And in my case, an old fix is still a good one. I'll hope you'll find IEWebFix a useful tool.

More information about this problem is available at:

Microsoft IE Update

Activating ActiveX Controls

Instructions for updating websites to include QuickTime content

Preparing Websites with Active Content for Announced Browser Changes

About the author
Ronald Northrip is the President of Ronald Northrip Software, a technology company focused on creating software tools to make developing websites, creating content, and using your computer simpler and better.

IEWebFix scans your entire website looking for offending codes. The codes are extracted, translated into JavaScript, and stored in the script directory (if you don't specify one, IEWebFix creates one called "_scripts"). IEWebFix will do up to 5 fixes for you for free. After that it costs $19.

N.B.: This site is not affiliated with RNS software and does not receive any commission or compensation for suggesting the use of this tool.

Ronald Northrip -
Reference: RNSoft [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2007-09-02 22:50:30


Uhh, the problem was assholes using ActiveX to install viruses. Not some lawsuit.

2006-11-21 11:17:03


The parties initiating the claim might be partially to blame, but don't leave it all on them. The point of the above "saga" is to illustrate Microsoft's lack of a solid resolution to a new problem they were presented with.

Their solution to the problem created a new problem that pushed the issue onto the world's web developers. The author here is stating that Microsoft chose the wrong solution in resolving this problem. Regardless of who initiated the whole thing, it was up to Microsoft to resolve it all.

2006-05-23 15:31:47


Sounds like you're blaming Microsoft for this change instead of the parties that should be blamed: EOLAS and the court system that recognizes frivolous patent claims.

posted by Robin Good on Thursday, May 18 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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