Microsoft kills plug-ins in Internet Explorer 10

Adobe received some more bad news this week as Microsoft confirmed that Internet Explorer 10, as included by default in its next-generation Windows 8 operating system, won't be supporting Flash - or any other media type which requires a plug-in.

That's not to say that Flash won't work on Windows 8: Microsoft isn't that stupid. Instead, IE Team leader Dean Hachamovitch described the two modes in which the browser will operate: Metro App - so called for its borrowing of the user interface from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform - and Desktop App.

In Desktop App mode, Internet Explorer 10 works as you would expect: plug-ins such as Adobe's Flash Player can be installed to increase the amount of content that can be viewed within the browser, just like previous editions of the package.

In Metro App mode, however, plug-ins have gone the way of the dodo: the software will run entirely plug-in-free, with no option to install any third-party add-ins to increase the amount of content on display.

"Running Metro style IE plug-in free improves battery life as well as security, reliability, and privacy for consumers," Hachamovitch explains in defence of his team's decision to pull the plug-ins. "Plug-ins were important early on in the web's history, but the web has come a long way since then with HTML5. Providing compatibility with legacy plug-in technologies would detract from, rather than improve, the consumer experience of browsing in the Metro style UI."

That move - and a focus on everyone's favourite buzzword du jour HTML5 - will mean a dramatic shift in the way the browser operates for many users, and heralds a future where both editions of IE drop support for battery-draining and security-hole-riddled third-party plug-in packages.

"The reality today is that sites are already rapidly engineering for a plug-in free experience," Hachamovitch claims. "Google, for example, recently launched their HTML5 YouTube site for phones. We examined the use of plug-ins across the top 97,000 sites world-wide, a corpus which includes local sites outside the US in significant depth. Many of the 62 per cent of these sites that currently use Adobe Flash already fall back to HTML5 video in the absence of plug-in support."

For those who find themselves using the new, shiny Metro App mode of the browser, there's good news: if you find a site that's broken due to the lack of plug-ins, Hachamovitch explains that there'll be a button to switch back to the traditional mode of operation by automatically reloading the page in the Desktop App mode of IE 10.

While Microsoft's partial move away from plug-ins in the browser will have a knock-on effect on its own rich-media plug-in Silverlight, it's Adobe that has the most to fear. The company's Flash product has been on a down trend ever since Apple head Steve Jobs refused to include support in his iOS-based iPhone and iPad devices, and with Microsoft adding its voice to the mix things are looking bad for Flash's future.

Adobe is already planning ahead for the seemingly inevitable demise of Flash, however: last month the company announced the public preview of Edge, an HTML5-based animation tool which it is hoping will replace Flash and which uses merely in-browser technologies to render its content, removing the need for plug-in software.

Whether Adobe can bring Edge - which currently lacks the interaction features of Flash - up to the level required before the launch of Windows 8, however, remains to be seen.

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