Microsoft nixes plug-ins, including Flash, from IE10 Metro

One skin of Internet Explorer to be bundled with Windows 8 will support plug-ins like Flash, another will not

Microsoft will not support browser plug-ins, including Adobe's Flash, in one of the two versions of IE (Internet Explorer) to be bundled with Windows 8, a company executive said today.

As he explained Microsoft's reasoning, Dean Hachamovitch, the executive who leads the IE team, used some deja vu, echoing motives cited by Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs more than a year ago.

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IE10, the edition included with the Windows 8 developer preview that Microsoft launched earlier this week, will come in two flavors. One will run in the Metro interface, the tile-based look borrowed from Windows Phone 7, while the other will run on the more traditional desktop, also available to Windows 8 users.

Microsoft called the former "Metro style IE."

That's the one that will be "plug-in free," Hachamovitch said in a Thursday blog.

"The Metro style browser in Windows 8 is as HTML5-only as possible, and plug-in free," said Hachamovitch. "The experience that plug-ins provide today is not a good match with Metro style browsing and the modern HTML5 Web."

Both versions of IE10 on Windows 8 will use the same rendering engine, added Hachamovitch in a separate blog entry published Wednesday.

Because it's plug-in free, the Metro IE10 -- a separate app written for the Metro interface, not just a "visual design," said Hachamovitch -- does not support Flash, Adobe's popular media player.

Hachamovitch relied on many of the same arguments that Apple has peddled for years as it defended its decision to ban Flash from the iPhone and iPad.

"Running Metro style IE plug-in free improves battery life as well as security, reliability, and privacy for consumers," said Hachamovitch today.

In a long letter made public in April 2010, Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs ticked off security, reliability, performance, and power issues as reasons why Apple would never allow Flash on iOS.

"We know firsthand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash," said Jobs in his unusual "Thoughts on Flash" epistle. "We don't want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods, and iPads by adding Flash."

The Metro IE10 app doesn't support plug-ins, including Flash, leading to blank spaces on some sites.

Hachamovitch noted that Microsoft's research showed that 62 percent of the top 97,000 websites worldwide fall back to HTML5 video in the absence of Flash, again mirroring Jobs' 2010 anti-Adobe comments.

Plug-ins, including Flash, will be supported by the desktop version of IE10, and users can easily switch between the two, to, for example, render a specific site in the desktop browser after looking at it in Metro.

Users can also set either version as the default for all browsing on a Windows 8 PC.

Touch-enabled devices like tablets will presumably default to the Metro style IE10, and hardware powered by ARM or other SoC (system on a chip) processors -- which will run only Metro apps in the SoC edition of Windows 8 -- will obviously offer only Metro IE10.

Hachamovitch also launched a pre-emptive strike against critics of the dual-IE10 decision.

"Pessimists may criticize what they will call 'two browsers,'" said Hachamovitch. "There's only one browsing engine, which you can use with two different 'skins [and] over time, the Metro style experience will serve more and more mainstream browsing scenarios."

Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC, agreed that two IE browsers shouldn't trouble Windows 8 users.

"I don't see a problem with that, since the key underlying technologies are unified," Hilwa said in an email interview. "The two user-facing parts of the browser show how a developer can target both styles of using Windows 8 if they choose. Clearly, touch is a new way that requires a new model of programming and special attention, so this is warranted."

The Metro IE10 app is available only as part of the Windows 8 developer preview. That early look at the OS can be downloaded by anyone from Microsoft's website.

The desktop version of IE10 relies on plug-ins like Flash to properly display some sites.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.
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