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Microsoft Explains IE 10 and Adobe Flash Nuances

Microsoft this week explained a little more about how the Adobe Flash Player works with Internet Explorer 10 on the Windows 8 operating system.

Flash is built into IE 10 and gets distributed with Windows 8. Adobe and Microsoft collaborated on the Windows 8 PC version of Flash for x86/x64 machines. As for the Windows RT OS, Flash support is promised there as well -- at least initially.

"Adobe is committed to delivering this same Flash Player support for Internet Explorer on both x86/64 and the initial delivery of Windows RT PCs (Windows running on ARM processors)," Microsoft's announcement, posted on Saturday, explained.

Flash now gets regularly updated through Microsoft's Windows Update service, if that's turned on. If a user tries to install the Flash add-on on IE 10, the installation will fail, and a dialog box will pop up telling the user that Flash is already built into the browser.

One Flash, Two UIs
The same Adobe Flash Player technology is used for IE 10 across Windows 8's two user interfaces (UIs). The IE 10 browser will open either on the "Desktop" UI side of Windows 8 or on the touch-optimized "Windows Store app" UI side of Windows 8 (formerly called "Metro" by Microsoft), depending on context, settings and user preferences. The user's browser experience will differ slightly, depending on which side of the Windows 8 OS IE 10 uses. Users can control which side of the OS IE 10 will tap by changing their "Internet options."

Not much has changed with the Desktop side of Windows 8. Flash works with IE 10 there in the same way as previous versions of Internet Explorer. All add-ins are supported on the IE 10 Desktop side.

On the Windows Store app side of Windows 8, Flash is described as a "new power-optimized, touch-friendly version of Adobe Flash Player." To make Flash work with the Windows Store app side of Windows 8, Adobe and Microsoft had to do some custom tweaking. For instance, they added touch gesture support. Rollovers were disabled because they don't work well with touch, according to Microsoft's announcement.

To use IE 10 on the Windows Store app side of Windows 8, IE 10 has to be designated as the default browser. Using a third-party browser, such as Chrome or Firefox, as the default browser will cause IE 10 to be switched to the Desktop version, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Compatibility List
IE 10 on the Windows Store app side of Windows 8 doesn't support ActiveX or any other add-ins. This browser only works with Web sites that Adobe and Microsoft have placed on a "compatibility list." The compatibility list is contained in an XML file, called "IECOMPATDATA.XML," that's stored in Internet Explorer's local settings. A site will get put on that compatibility list by Adobe and Microsoft if it's known to deliver a poor user experience without Flash.

Apparently, IT pros users cannot alter this compatibility list. The old "compatibility view" control, first seen in Internet Explorer 9, which controlled how the page got rendered in the browser, doesn't have an effect either.

"The touch-optimized version of Internet Explorer has no mechanism for manually adding sites to the Compatibility List," Microsoft's announcement explained. "Manually adding sites to the Compatibility List in the desktop browser by clicking the Compatibility View button in the address bar (the broken page icon) has no effect on how those pages are rendered in the touch-optimized version of Internet Explorer."

IE 10 on Windows 8 has new control, called "view on the desktop," which will let the user switch to the Desktop IE 10 browser view when Web sites don't work well with the Windows Store app-based IE 10 browser. This "view on desktop" control is accessed through the tools icon in IE 10.

The compatibility list will even compel the browser to render as a Mozilla Firefox browser or Apple Safari browser, in some cases. The announcement offers the following explanations for this turnabout:

  • "The option to have Internet Explorer report itself as Firefox 5 is useful when the site normally only offers an experience to Internet Explorer users that uses ActiveX controls or other browser plug-ins.
  • "The options to have Internet Explorer report itself as Mobile Safari on the iPad can be useful when a particular site only offers a non-Flash version to that particular browser. Some sites will switch from trying to stream video using the Flash plug-in to streaming video using the HTML5 <video> tag."

The new compatibility list appears to be a compromise toward eliminating add-ins altogether on the Windows Store app side of Windows 8. Microsoft has suggested in past discussions that add-ins have just slowed the browsing performance of Internet Explorer. HTML 5 was supposed to have ushered in a new world of "native" graphics processing through the use of <video>  and <canvas> tags and the like, but some Web sites can't or won't abandon Flash use, or the experience apparently just isn't good with IE 10 on the Windows Store apps side of Windows 8. Microsoft's announcement points to Google's YouTube video sites as needing Flash to enable the best experience with IE 10, for instance.

Other Differences
There are plenty of other IE 10 performance and technical distinctions arising from Windows 8's dual UI. For instance, browser security is a bit different with IE 10 on the Desktop side of the OS. Even if a user is running a 64-bit Windows 8 edition, IE 10 on the Desktop runs tabs in 32-bit mode by default. That means that IE 10 on the Desktop can't run enhanced protected mode, a security feature that's available to IE 10 on the Windows Store apps side of 64-bit Windows 8. Microsoft explained this point about a year ago.

Users who want to play Internet-streaming music in their IE 10 browser while doing another task will want to use the Desktop IE 10 browser, since Windows Store apps suspend an application when it's not active. Alternatively, users can snap the music-playing site next to their active Windows Store app page or download a specialized music site app instead, should it exist.

In general, Microsoft is recommending that organizations that aren't seeing a good experience with their Web sites on Windows 8 should build an app for it.

"Microsoft believes that the best experience for websites that previously required add-ons in order to function will be provided through Windows Store apps for those sites," the announcement explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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