Patent case forces website changes

Website developers are preparing to make changes to their sites to support a special version of Internet Explorer.

Microsoft says it has been forced to release a new version to avoid infringing a patent held by Eolas Technologies. A US court recently awarded Eolas $US521 million in the case it brought against Redmond.

Earlier this month Microsoft posted information warning developers of upcoming changes in the way Internet Explorer for Windows handles plug-ins. A beta release is available now for developers, and the new browser is expected to be released early next year.

Essentially, IE will now prompt the user before running a plugin object embedded in a webpage. Microsoft says this implementation of plugins avoids the Eolas patent, but unless developers update their sites users will get an confusing prompt before running plugin content.

To avoid the prompt, developers can change their sites to use a script to load the plugin.

Mark Ottaway, Auckland-based managing director of web traffic monitoring company Red Sheriff, says pages that include advertisements — especially multiple advertisements — are most likely to be affected. Most of the major sites monitored by Red Sheriff don't use Flash or other formats that need plugins for their own content, but Flash in particular was being used by a “phenomenal” number of smaller sites, he says.

“The bigger publishers, and rightly, are more conservative.”

Brent Colbert, Xtra’s online delivery manager, says he’s watching the situation closely. Last month 98.43% of visitors to the XtraMSN website used some version of IE, and he expects the new version to be adopted “pretty quickly”.

“We’re really concerned about the user experience as a result,” Colbert says. XTRA has sought further information from MSN.

“It’s a watching brief at the moment. As soon as we get some new information, we’ll look at it.”

Colbert says XtraMSN’s content management system will ease the task, but careful preparation will be needed.

“It’s just something we need to think about and plan for.”

Plugin developers Apple, Macromedia and Real have posted technotes of their own. Other browser vendors, not wishing to be sued, may also follow Microsoft’s lead.

Eolas, however, says the workaround still infringes its patent.

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