Microsoft Windows 8 Flash U-turn

Microsoft has outlined changes to its policy regarding the Flash plug-in on its latest operating system, Windows 8.

Previously, Flash ran by default on Internet Explorer (IE) for desktop, but the ‘immersive IE experience’ largely blocked content. Now, Flash content will (on the whole) play by default, barring a small number of sites Microsoft deems incompatible.

In a post on Microsoft's IEBlog called Flash in Windows 8, Rob Mauceri, group program manager for Internet Explorer, said, during testing in recent months, the company has seen that “the vast majority of sites with Flash content are now compatible with the Windows experience for touch, performance and battery life”.

He added that the company believes in having a 'just work' web experience, and (in perhaps a dig at Apple's iPad), argued your primary device should “give you access to all the web content on the sites you rely on,” otherwise it’s “just a companion to a PC”.

We at .net are sceptical that “the majority” of Flash websites are now suddenly touch-aware and don’t suck battery life like some sort of plug-in vampire. Microsoft’s U-turn also bemused designers and developers we spoke to. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just another tactic to differentiate Windows RT from iOS — an added ‘selling point’ saying ‘if you want Flash sites on the go, buy Microsoft,” suggested designer and art director Tom Muller.

Muller noted that, while there are still plenty of Flash sites that would need supporting, he no longer considers the technology essential, and reckons it’ll now largely only be used for “specific high-impact/immersive online campaigns”.

Game developer Iain Lobb considered Microsoft’s decision is “good news for Windows RT users”, but admitted that, as the user-base remains small, it won’t make a difference when it comes to developers choosing technologies to use for projects: “HTML/CSS and canvas performance on mobile and desktop has improved so much in the last year that it’s now a realistic choice for most interactive content — even simple games. More complex games still work better in Flash, but even that could change.”

When asked whether he thought Flash was now having something of a second wind (with Firefox oddly exempting it from Click to Play), Lobb said that it “never went away and remains popular, but just nowhere near its peak in the heady days of 2008”.

Experience designer Aral Balkan, on the other hand, saw little positive in Microsoft propping up what he two years ago already considered an ailing technology: “Oh good, a technology I don’t care about enabled on an operating system I don’t care about. Exciting times!”

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