Ethan Marcotte now blogs at Unstoppable Robot Ninja.

Weblog entry:

The Eolas matter

So what the hell is going on?

Apple, Macromedia, RealNetworks, and Microsoft have all published technical papers detailing the impact of upcoming changes to IE/Win in the wake of the Eolas ruling — even Mozilla has joined the chorus, if only to assure its users that Gecko-based browsers won’t be adversely affected by the proposed solutions. But of course, we will be.

The above tech notes are disconcerting for a number of reasons (to say nothing of the sheer amount of development time required to implement across the web). First and foremost, I was under the assumption that Microsoft was to appeal the Eolas decision; should we assume otherwise, now that we’ve initial versions of the “new” IE available for download?

Equally troubling are the solutions described. Most revolve around the use of JavaScript to dynamically generate the embedded content, which is a huge accessibility no-no; as Mark Pilgrim would remind us, 11% of Internet users don’t use JavaScript.

But even more problematic is an HTML-only solution described in the Microsoft article, one which requires much less work than any of the JavaScript workarounds:

The OBJECT element for an ActiveX control has a new attribute: NOEXTERNALDATA. Specify true for this attribute to indicate that the control does not access remote data and that Internet Explorer should not prompt the user. If a PARAM element does reference a remote source of data and you specify true for the NOEXTERNALDATA attribute of the OBJECT element, the value of that PARAM element is not provided to the IPersistPropertyBag interface for the control.

So naturally, if you want your embedded content to display seamlessly within your page (that is, without a nasty popup window appearing), use the proprietary, invalid, and 100% IE-only NOEXTERNALDATA attribute. I’m afraid that Zeldman’s portentous patent theories may have been dead on — I mean, if you were an IT manager forced to implement one of the following:

  1. a lengthy and inelegant JavaScript hack, or
  2. a 22 characters-long HTML attribute fix that just happens to invalidate your site’s pages,

which would you pick to get your site to display correctly in the new IE? I mean, just because the pages aren’t valid, they still work, right? Right?

Once there is a perceived cost and/or liability associated with web standards, they’ll be permanently relegated to the realm of weblogs and personal sites. No matter the true ROI of standards-based design and development, mandating proprietary hacks such as the NOEXTERNALDATA attribute contribute only to the fragmentation of the web — and of course, of the code used to power it. If the choice is between validity and functionality (albeit a proprietary, fragmented definition thereof), things don’t look too good for a unified approach to the web.

So at the end of the day, changes are on the horizon — and we’ve Eolas founder/CEO/sole employee Mike Doyle to thank for them. You’ll pardon us, Mike, if we’re not exactly brimming over with gratitude.

Update: Slashdot and MozillaZine have additional coverage of the IE/Eolas nonsense — or as a friend of mine likes to call it, “Mike Doyle: No Place To Hide.”


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