Fear and Loathing out of Redmond—again

BusinessWeek Online: IE patent endgame detailed

"If you're currently using a plug-in, you will have to change your pages quite significantly," said one person familiar with Microsoft's post-verdict plans. "There might be tools to help you do so, but currently they don't exist."

Regardless of whether the court orders Microsoft to change IE, the software giant has been conferring with its own engineers and those of companies that rely on the browser's ability to automatically launch and display multimedia programs with plug-ins--an ability the court held to be, in its current form, an infringement of the Eolas patent.

Now Microsoft, while expressing optimism that it will ultimately prevail over Eolas in the courts, is advising Web authors to take precautions and prepare for a post-Eolas world.

Even though I know things such as the results of patent disputes are rarely as dire or as drastic as the tech writers and analysts would have you believe, this story still gives me pause. I thought to myself, "Well this shouldn't affect us too much if they DO castrate IE since we use little autoplay Flash on any of our sites." No need to other than ego stroking on a couple of sites, and these could be replaced with animated gifs if absolutely necessary.

But then I got to thinking: oh, all those damned PDFs for all those white papers and newsletters ... yuck.

Then I began wondering what this really means. I thought Microsoft announced it will not be making any more versions of IE any longer. At least not standalone versions. And I don't see how it can go and break the gazillion or so copies of IE already out there. So unless MS breaks versions of IE that will be embedded in future versions of new operating systems, what kind of an impact is this really going to have? And when?

What about Microsoft just paying this guy and the University of California some obscene license fee so this all goes away? Like a few hundred million dollars should keep the guy who owns Eolas happy, shouldn't it? Or they could just buy the technology like they do everything else they want. Why aren't these options being talked about in these heated WC3 meetings?

Something's just not right here. A lot of handwringing, but no real analysis that I've been able to find. Even Zeldman doesn't get it right: he says "Microsoft is supposed to cripple its market-leading browser so that IE/Windows will no longer seamlessly play Flash, Quicktime ... " There is nothing I've been able to find that says the judge said Microsoft has to cripple IE -- only reports that it MIGHT have to cripple IE if the judge so orders. Just lots of FUD mongering.

I have the sneaking suspicion that I won't really have to worry about this unless there is some way Microsoft has figured out to make a boatload of money off forcing us to make changes on all of the websites affected by this. And I don't see how a judge might rule in a way that would damage (financially) those innocent of any wrongdoing. Isn't it more likely for the judge to order Microsoft to pay for licensing?

On the other hand, I'm talking about a legal system that appointed our current president.

I wonder if it's going to affect all those stupid animated ads that launch themselves on top of the content we really want to look at. Are those autoplay plugins, or are they something else? I suspect they're affected too since you don't have to do anything to launch them.

I guess I'll wait for some real analysis before I start worrying about it all. By someone who actually knows how to interpret legal rulings and has no interest in churning PR against the winner of this decision.
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