One of the top news stories this week that got virtually no popular press involves the judgment against Microsoft by a small company with a big software patent.
University of California and Eolas Technologies, Inc. hold a patent which Microsoft, according to several judges, violated with its popular Internet Explorer Web browser.
Without going into painful technical detail, the patent involves the “ActiveX” technology enabling Web browsers to display both web pages and content such as streaming audio, Flash, QuickTime video and other “rich” or “dynamic” content.
Despite heated input by the Internet community to invalidate Eolas’ patent because of its broad nature, Microsoft lost every appeal and effort to get the patent nullified.
Bottom line: Microsoft faced two choices. First, they could pay the patent owner and keep things moving along, business as usual (much the way Blackberry did recently when a judge found them guilty of patent infringement).
Second choice: Microsoft could avoid future licensing fees by changing their IE browser and removing the offending code.
Which do you think they chose? Ding-ding-ding!
You guessed it, Microsoft chose to avoid paying millions more by simply removing the offending code.
Unfortunately, that decision means a bit of trouble for a few million web designers who use Flash, streaming movies, and more.
Ultimately, the change to IE may force visitors to sites with rich content to click on an object to enable it before they can interact with it.
Not a huge deal. However, time will tell what ultimately happens and the actual impact on sites running rich content.
But before everyone starts screaming that “The sky is falling” and “our websites are broken,” let me ask you a question.
Do you really think that companies like Macromedia (makers of Flash) and sites like Google Video will let a few changes in Internet Explorer put them out of business?
I don’t think so!
If anything, this change will force companies to step up to the plate and discover ways to serve dynamic content that does not depend on ActiveX.
Sure, it will mean some pain for both content creators and users in the short term, but in the end I honestly believe that, through innovation, we will all end up with a better solution than what currently exists.
In other news today…
** Hollywood Goes Online **
Six major movie studios recently announced their intentions to start selling new-release movies via Internet download from the site MovieLink.com.
But before you jump for joy at watching “Brokeback Mountain” on your pc, understand a couple of facts.
You can’t burn the movie to DVD, and the downloadable films carry a price tag of around $15-30, a price comparable or more than a physical DVD you can purchase at Wal-Mart.
As a rabid DVD consumer and enthusiastic computer user (with six in my home office alone), I can tell you right up front, there is no way in @#$%* I’ll pay 20 bucks for a movie I can’t “veg” out with in front of the TV.
Are they insane?
Until it gets to the point where you can download a new- release movie, burn it to DVD or put it on your iPod, downloadable flicks will remain, at best, a novelty.