Microsoft Has Changed Its Mind: Windows 8 IE Metro Renders Flash
In a surprising twist, Microsoft has made available Windows 8 Release Preview with support for Flash in IE 10 Metro and Desktop, both on x86 and ARM platforms.
In September of last year, Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft, declared in a special blog post that IE 10/Metro will provide a plug-in free experience, saying:
For the web to move forward and for consumers to get the most out of touch-first browsing, the Metro style browser in Windows 8 is as HTML5-only as possible, and plug-in free. The experience that plug-ins provide today is not a good match with Metro style browsing and the modern HTML5 web.
Sinofsky also said in February that Flash won’t be supported on Windows 8 for ARM at all. Later that month, Adobe stated on their roadmap for Flash that they are “working closely with Microsoft to finalize details around supported configurations for Flash Player and Adobe AIR on Windows 8”, without specifying what exactly they meant.
It turns out that the latest Window 8 Release Preview that was made available on May 31st supports Flash in IE 10/Metro, and Microsoft has plans to support it on ARM too. This is an important change from previous plans. Microsoft has included a power-optimized and touch-friendly Flash in IE10/Metro that will load web pages included in the Compatibility View (CV) list. If a website is not on the CV list, the rendering will be transferred to IE/Desktop. Microsoft wants to be able to let users see popular Flash websites without having to leave IE/Metro:
We believe that having more sites “just work” in the Metro style browser improves the experience for consumers and businesses alike. As a practical matter, the primary device you walk around with should play the Web content on sites you rely on. Otherwise, the device is just a companion to a PC. Because some popular Web sites require Adobe Flash and do not offer HTML5 alternatives, Adobe and Microsoft worked together closely to deliver a Flash Player suitable for the Metro style experience. …
A good Flash Player experience is part of a no compromise experience across all form factors of PCs, including touch-centric PCs running Windows 8. We’ve heard feedback from customers about their experience with sites that do not offer an HTML5 experience. For example, try pbskids.org on an iPad. Some workforce solutions, like Beeline, require Flash. Some financial management sites, like this one, require Flash. And some sites still deliver their best experience with Flash, such as youtube.com. ….
For the development community, platform continuity and technology choice are important. Flash in Metro style IE10 provides a bridge for existing sites to transition to HTML5 technologies where it makes sense and at a pace that is right for the experiences they want to deliver to their customers. HTML5 does not currently support, for example, some premium video content and game scenarios.
Microsoft mentioned that supporting the Flash plug-in, which is identical with the IE/Desktop plug-in, is an exception and there will be no other plug-in supported. They also stated that they had worked with Adobe to add support for touch gestures –including double tap and pinch- in Flash, disabling Flash functionality incompatible with touch, such as rollovers. The power consumption has been improved, and also security, reliability and responsiveness. Future Flash updates will be automatically delivered via Windows Update, to prevent delays in patching security holes and freeing the user from performing Flash updates.
A Flash website is included in the CV list if it responds well to touch, including working with the on-screen keyboard, if it does not drain the battery, if it complies with Metro style UX guidelines, and if it does not use rollovers nor P2P functionality. Microsoft will provide guidelines for creating Flash websites which render well in IE/Metro and a way to submit a site to the Compatibility View list (XML).
On their side, Adobe has updated the Flash roadmap to include support for Windows 8 Metro, both x86 and ARM.
Microsoft’s decision to support Flash on Windows 8, including future tablets, comes in contrast with Apple’s choice to ban Flash on iOS devices. Perhaps Microsoft wants to make Windows 8 tablets more attractive to some users who currently cannot view certain content on iPad.
Camille Fournier May 21, 2015