March 14, 2013

Flash Issues Prompt Microsoft Whitelist Policy Change Despite HTML5 Push

Microsoft’s (News Alert) Windows 8 launch had problems immediately with the limitations it placed on Adobe Flash. Until today, Windows 8 worked based on Microsoft’s whitelist policy, meaning Flash would only work on websites on the list, and only if the user had the right OS version and browser.

Microsoft has now swapped the whitelist policy for a blacklist policy, making Flash available to all users by default, on any device and with any browser unless the site is on the blacklist.

The blacklist includes only those websites with content deemed incompatible with touch devices, or content dependent on third-party plugins.

Microsoft said it decided to open up its Flash options to give users enhanced Web compatibility, and to allow access to sites that don’t have HTML5 alternatives in place.

Because the whitelist policy was put in place for protection purposes (to stave off touch-related problems for Flash apps), the company decided the confusion wasn’t worth the trouble for its customers.

For instance, users with the desktop version of IE10 had no problems with Flash, but the Metro browser could only run whitelisted websites. The problem was even more prevalent for Windows RT users because without a desktop option, Flash content was available only on whitelist websites completely regardless of the IE10 version used.

Microsoft spoke about the policy change in a blog post written by Internet Explorer’s group program manager Rob Mauceri.

“Starting tomorrow, we are updating Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8 and Windows RT to enable Flash content to run by default,” Mauceri announced. “On Windows 8, all Flash content continues to be enabled for IE on the desktop.”

Speaking on the reasons for the change, Mauceri said “We believe having more sites ‘just work’ in IE10 improves the experience for consumers, businesses, and developers. As a practical matter, the primary device you walk around with should give you access to all the Web content on the sites you rely on. Otherwise, the device is just a companion to a PC.”

The policy switch has come late likely because of the weak adoption of HTML5. The company hoped to push developers toward HTML5, but by doing so Windows RT ran into significant Flash problems, earning it a negative public review.

Although Microsoft’s new policy fixes the Flash problems and has Windows RT working more effectively, the change may be a bit too late to redeem Windows RT. Additionally, users who did embrace HTML5 alternatives due to Flash issues may now feel their effort was for nothing.

Microsoft does give itself a pat on the back in its blogpost for making the change, however, regardless of how late.

“Of the thousands of domains tested for Flash compatibility to date, we have found that fewer than 4 percent are still incompatible, in the most part because the core site experience requires other ActiveX controls in addition to Flash. With Windows 8 in the hands of customers and developers, we listened to feedback around the experience of Web sites with Flash.”

Yes, Microsoft listened to feedback, but many customers aren’t impressed by a change they deemed necessary from the start.

Edited by Brooke Neuman


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