Windows 8 Release Preview includes the sixth release preview of Internet Explorer 10. After several years of beating the drum of standards compliance and freedom from plugins, Internet Explorer 10 has surprised many with the integration of Adobe Flash. That's not the only provocative change the new browser makes: it enables Do Not Track by default, too. Standards compliance has also been further improved, and there are one or two interesting new usability features.
Internet Explorer 10 will include a Flash component, on both x86/x64, and ARM. This will be usable in both the desktop front-end and the touch-friendly Metro one. Flash will work on any site in the desktop browser, and on a select set of whitelisted sites, including YouTube, Netflix, and CNN, in the Metro browser.
While the x86/x64 desktop browser will allow any plugins, the Metro browser will not; nor will either of the ARM browsers. This puts Flash in a very privileged position. Even Microsoft's own Flash-like Silverlight runtime isn't getting the same treatment.
The decision to incorporate Flash, Microsoft calls it a "practical matter," and that having more sites "just work" in the Metro browser is the most important concern: users shouldn't be forced to put down their tablets and use a PC just because they come across a site that uses Flash.
Being integrated into Internet Explorer, the Flash plugin will be updated by Microsoft, through Windows Update, just as is already done in Google Chrome. The whitelist, too, will be subject to periodic updates, so we might expect to see new sites added and others removed, according to user demand and migration to HTML5 technologies.
Microsoft says that it has worked to make the Metro Flash (though not the desktop one) more amenable to touch content: it supports double-tap and pinch-to-zoom, for example, but doesn't support mouse hover effects. This may be true, but the broader problem—plenty of Flash content just isn't designed for touch—remains. YouTube, for example, all works, but certain features, such as the quality/resolution menu, are a little too dainty for convenient fingering.
In spite of concerns over security and battery life, having Flash is, at this stage in the Web's life, still better than not having Flash. One can, for example, just follow links to YouTube, without being taken out of the browser experience and into a separate YouTube application, and without having to worry about whether a given video supports HTML5 viewing (not all do). In a contradictory sense, the Metro browser manages to achieve a more Web-native experience (insofar as it doesn't depend on "there's an app for that," for rich content, letting you stay within the browser) by allowing the use of non-Web technology.
One major side-effect of the whitelisting is that online advertising, which isn't whitelisted (except for that integrated into sites like YouTube or Hulu) uses the non-Flash fallback. This will probably make advertisers unhappy, but not as much as Internet Explorer's other big change: it enables Do Not Track by default.
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