Arrivederci Eolas!

February 9, 2008

In 2006, the folks at Micro$haft changed the way Internet Explorer embedded control objects, affecting in particular how web developers deal with Flash objects. The reason: the Eolas patent dispute. The outcome: web developers started growing considerably more gray hair than before. Yet, it contributed to the flourishing of Flash embedding Javascript libraries, and to endless discussions on how can you best embed flash content.

These discussions were not only about circumventing the side effects of the Eolas patent dispute. They were about providing alternative content, about simplicity of use, about standard compliance, about cross-browser support, and about graceful degradation and progressive enhancement. Still, now that Microsoft announced that an IE update scheduled for April, 2008 will remove the click to activate functionality, reverting the software to its original design, I am trying to figure out what it means in practical terms. After all, the click to activate message is probably the main reason why many web developers adopted embedding libraries in the past years.

From an embedding point of view, not much changes really. Web developers still have to embed the beast and provide graceful degradation. Apple’s iPhone still doesn’t support Flash, as far as I know. Plus, accessibility is being enforced by laws in many countries. There are no two sides to this story; we still cannot rely on markup-only methods.

From the simplicity of use side of things, using a Javascript library is IMO the best way of embedding an interactive beast in your web pages. Decoupling is good, we were told in school, remember? A clean, well tested Javascript library takes you right there in no time.

From a standards compliance point of view, Micro$haft is pushing very hard for people to upgrade their browser to IE7 while working on IE8. This means that web developers may finally start worrying much less about IE6, and start worrying more about IE8. Is that good news? I’m not sure about that yet. I am happy to see that IE8 passes the Acid2 test. I am even happier to hear that HasLayout is as good as gone in IE8. Yet, while I do agree that the DOCTYPE switch is broken, I still can’t manage to get my head around Micro$haft’s version targeting mechanism proposed for IE8. It seems to me that every time Micro$haft proposes a new way of solving a problem, web developers have to expect a new avalanche of issues to be on top of. I sincerely hope I’m wrong this time.

While EOLAS falls into history, object-embedding Javascript libraries are here to stay. Today, the authors of the two most compelling Flash embedding libraries have joined efforts into the SWFFix SWFObject project. In practical terms, adopting this library is probably the most forward-compatible action item in my list. For the rest, it seems to me that regardless of headaches and hours of suffering caused by IE6 and the EOLAS dispute, it will all fade into nostalgia like Polaroid’s film.

SAYONARA, EOLAS!

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