Tag Archives: ie9

IE9 ActiveX Filtering causing tears of frustration

I have been assisting a friend who, she told me, could not get BBC iPlayer to work. Further, another site was telling her she did not have ActiveX, but she was sure she had it.

This was puzzling me. She described how she went to the BBC iPlayer site, and it said she needed to install Flash.


She clicked the link and got to Adobe’s download site. She clicked Download now and got a page describing four steps to install, but nothing happened, no download.

She clicked Adobe’s troubleshooting guide, which took her through uninstalling Flash Player and then a manual download. All seemed to work but at the end of it, it was the same. Go to the BBC site, and be told to install Flash Player.

You can understand how computers, at times, can seem downright hostile to the long-suffering user.

What was the problem? I logged on with remote assistance. Somehow, IE9 had ActiveX Filtering enabled.


This is actually a great security feature. ActiveX is disabled on all sites by default. A little blue circle symbol appears at top right.


Click this symbol and you can turn off filtering for this site only.


Yes, great feature, once you are aware of it – but too subtle to be noticed by the average user browsing the web. From the user’s perspective, no amount of uninstalling and reinstalling of Flash Player would fix it, and the PC was about to be flung across the room in frustration.

The other problem is that the feature is too new and too little used to feature in most of the troubleshooting guides out there. It is not mentioned in Adobe’s page on troubleshooting Flash on Windows and in IE, for example.

How the setting got enabled in the first place is a mystery. Maybe a mis-click. It is unchecked by default, and you can see why.

Conclusions? I guess it shows that security without usability is ineffective; and that minimalist user interfaces can work against you if they in effect hide important information from the user.

Incidentally, this is why  I dislike the Windows 7 feature that hides notification icons by default. It is user-hostile and I advise disabling it by ticking Always shot all icons and notifications on the taskbar.

It may be more secure, but I would not consider enabling ActiveX Filtering for non-technical users.

This is why people ignore security warnings: IE9 blocks official Microsoft update

Microsoft has released a Web Standards Update for Visual Studio 2010, with new HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript support.

I look forward to trying it; but Internet Explorer 9’s Smart Filter was not keen.


What you cannot see from the screenshot is that the option to “Run anyway” is hidden by default. You have to click More Options; otherwise you just get the first two options, Don’t run, or Delete.

Note that this download is from an official Microsoft site, and has been downloaded, according to the stats on the page, nearly 6,500 times.

Developers can cope; but I think this sort of warning is extreme for a download from an official Microsoft site, whose main crime is being unknown, for some reason, to the SmartScreen database of approved executables.

Though maybe the Visual Studio team should have signed the installer.

The long term effect is that we learn to ignore the warnings. Which is a shame, because the next one might be real.

Update: How do other browsers handle this scenario? Here’s Google Chrome:


Mozilla Firefox – a prompt, not a warning:


same in Apple Safari:


Which is best? Well, IE9 wins kudos for being the only browser to point out that the package is unsigned; but loses it for its over-the-top reaction. Chrome has pitched the leverl of warning about right; Firefox and Safari are perhaps too soft, though let’s also allow for the fact that their filters may already have worked out that thousands had already downloaded this file without known incident so far.

The IE9 issue is mainly because the installer package is unsigned, which is probably an oversight that will be fixed soon.

Microsoft refuses to comment as .NET developers fret about Windows 8

There is a long discussion over on the official Silverlight forum about Microsoft’s Windows 8 demo at D9 and what was said, and not said; and another over on Channel 9, Microsoft’s video-centric community site for developers.

At D9 Microsoft showed that Windows 8 has a dual personality. In one mode it has a touch-centric user interface which is an evolved version of what is on Windows Phone 7. In another mode, just a swipe away, it is the old Windows 7, plus whatever incremental improvements Microsoft may add. Let’s call it the Tiled mode and the Classic mode.

Pretty much everything that runs on Windows today will likely still run on Windows 8, in its Classic mode. However, the Tiled mode has a new development platform based on HTML and JavaScript, exploiting the rich features of HTML 5, and the fast JavaScript engine and hardware acceleration in the latest Internet Explorer.

Although D9 is not a developer event, Microsoft did talk specifically about this aspect. Here is the press release:

Today, we also talked a bit about how developers will build apps for the new system. Windows 8 apps use the power of HTML5, tapping into the native capabilities of Windows using standard JavaScript and HTML to deliver new kinds of experiences. These new Windows 8 apps are full-screen and touch-optimized, and they easily integrate with the capabilities of the new Windows user interface. There’s much more to the platform, capabilities and tools than we showed today.

Program Manager Jensen Harris says in the preview video:

We introduced a new platform based on standard web technologies

Microsoft made no mention of either Silverlight or .NET, even though Silverlight is used as the development platform in Windows Phone 7, from which Windows 8 Tiled mode draws its inspiration.

The fear of .NET developers is that Microsoft’s Windows team now regards not only Silverlight but also .NET on the client as a legacy technology. Everything will still run, but to take full advantage of Tiled mode you will need to use the new HTML and JavaScript model. Here are a couple of sample comments. This:

My biggest fears coming into Windows 8 was that, as a mostly WPF+.NET developer, was that they would shift everything to Silverlight and leave the FULL platform (can you write a Visual Studio in Silverlight? of course not, not designed for that) in the dust. To my utter shock, they did something much, much, much worse.

and this:

We are not Windows developers because we love Windows. We put up with Windows so we can use C#, F# and VS2010. I’ve considered changing the platform many times. What stops me each time is the goodness that keeps coming from devdiv. LINQ, Rx, TPL, async – these are the reasons I’m still on Windows.

Underlying the discussion is that developers have clients, and clients want applications that run on a platform with a future. Currently, Microsoft is promoting HTML and JavaScript as the future for Windows applications, putting every client-side .NET developer at a disadvantage in those pitches.

What is curious is that the developer tools division at Microsoft, part of Server and Tools, has continued to support and promote .NET; and in fact Microsoft is soon to deliver Visual Studio LightSwitch, a new edition of Visual Studio that generates only Silverlight applications. Microsoft is also using Silverlight for a number of its own web user interfaces, such as for Azure, System Center and Windows InTune, as noted here.

Now, I still expect that both Silverlight and native code, possibly with some new XAML-based tool, will be supported for Windows 8 Tiled mode. But Microsoft has not said so; and may remain silent until the Build conference in September according to .NET community manager Pete Brown:

You all saw a very small technology demo of Windows 8, and a brief press release. We’re all being quiet right now because we can’t comment on this. It’s not because we don’t care, aren’t listening, have given up, or are agreeing or disagreeing with you on something. All I can say for now is to please wait until September. If we say more before then, that will be great, but there are no promises (and I’m not aware of any plans) to say more right now. I’m very sorry that there’s nothing else to share at the moment. I know that answer is terrible, but it’s all that we can say right now. Seriously.

While this is clearly not Brown’s fault, this is poor developer communication and PR from Microsoft. The fact that .NET and Silverlight champion Scott Guthrie is moving to Windows Azure is no comfort.

The developer division, and in fact the whole of Server and Tools, has long been a bright spot at Microsoft and among its most consistent performers. The .NET story overall includes some bumps, but as a platform for business applications it has been a remarkable success. The C# language has evolved rapidly and effectively under the guidance of Technical Fellow Anders Hejlsberg. It would be bewildering if Microsoft were to turn its back on .NET, even if only on the client.

In fact, it is bewildering that Microsoft is being so careless with this critical part of its platform, even if this turns out to be more to do with communication than technical factors.

From the outside, it still looks as if Microsoft’s server and tools division is pulling one way, and the Windows team the other. If that is the case, it is destructive, and something CEO Steve Ballmer should address; though I imagine that Steven Sinofsky, the man who steered Windows 7 to launch so successfully, is a hard person to oppose even for the CEO.

Update: Journalist Mary Jo Foley has posted on what she “hears from my contacts” about Jupiter:

Jupiter is a user interface library for Windows and will allow developers to build immersive applications using a XAML-based approach with coming tools from Microsoft. Jupiter will allow users a choice of programming languages, namely, C#, Visual Basic and C++.

Jupiter, presuming her sources are accurate, is the managed code platform for the new Windows shell – “Tiled mode” or “Tailored Apps” or “Modern Shell – MoSH”; though if that is the case, I am not sure whether C++ in this context will compile to managed or unmanaged code. Since Silverlight is already a way to code using XAML, it is also not clear to me whether Jupiter is in effect a new Windows-only version of Silverlight, or yet another approach.

Silverlight in Microsoft products – Silverlight the new Windows runtime, HTML 5 the new Silverlight?

Is Microsoft ditching Silverlight and embracing HTML 5? Or is Silverlight the future of desktop and browser-based development on Microsoft’s platform?

Good question; and I am not sure that Microsoft itself can answer. There is evidence for both cases.

One thing I have noticed though is that Silverlight is turning up in numerous Microsoft products. This is in contrast to the early years of the original .NET Framework, which Microsoft used rather little in its own stuff, though the context is different today because of the growth in web-based development.

I guess we cannot really count Visual Studio LightSwitch, which is a tool that builds Silverlight applications, though it is interesting insofar as the target market is not expert developers, but smart general users who want to build database applications.

Lync Server 2010 is a better example. Silverlight is used for the control panel.


Windows Azure, a strategic product for Microsoft, uses Silverlight for its control panel


Windows Intune, for maintaining networks online


System Center for managing Microsoft servers. I’m not actually sure how much Silverlight is used in System Center, but I understand the newly announced “Concero”, a new feature for managing public and private clouds, uses a Silverlight control panel and I suspect it is used elsewhere as well.


These are a few that I am aware of; I would be interested in other examples.

Now, you can make sense of this to some extent by distinguishing “Windows platform” from “broad reach” applications. It is curious, but Silverlight which started out as a broad reach plugin is gradually moving towards a Windows platform runtime, though it still runs on a Mac with some limitations, mainly lack of COM interop. There has been speculation that Silverlight could merge with the desktop Windows Presentation Foundation and become a commonly used application runtime for desktop Windows as well as web apps, and of course Windows Phone.

When Microsoft wants broad reach, it uses HTML, an example being Office Web Apps which make hardly any use of Silverlight.

Nevertheless, using Silverlight for products like Windows Intune could be annoying for administrators who might otherwise use an Apple iPad when out and about; but I guess Microsoft figures that if you are deep enough into Windows to use Intune, you probably will not be using an iPad.

Let me add that Silverlight seems to me to be working well in the examples above, to the extent that I have tried it. Could they be done equally well in HTML and JavaScript? Probably, if users have IE9, but probably not if it is IE8 or earlier.

Silverlight the new Windows, HTML 5 the new Silverlight?

Microsoft still paying the price for botched Vista with muddled development strategy

Professional Developers Conference 2003. Windows Longhorn is revealed, with three “pillars”:

  • Avalon, later named Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF)
  • Indigo, later named Windows Communication Foundation (WCF)
  • WinFS, the relational file system that was later abandoned

With the benefit of hindsight, Microsoft got many things right with the vision it set out at PDC 2003. The company saw that a revolution in user interface technology was under way, driven by the powerful graphics capabilities of modern hardware, and that the old Win32 graphics API would have to be replaced, much as Windows itself replaced DOS and the command-line. XAML and WPF was its answer, bringing together .NET, DirectX, vector graphics, XML and declarative programming to form a new, rich, presentation framework that was both designer-friendly and programmer-friendly.

Microsoft also had plans to take a cut-down version of WPF cross-platform as a browser plugin. WPF/Everywhere, which became Silverlight, was to take WPF to the Mac and to mobile devices.

I still recall the early demos of Avalon, which greatly impressed me: beautiful, rich designs which made traditional Windows applications look dated.

Unfortunately Microsoft largely failed to execute its vision. The preview of Longhorn handed out at PDC, which used Avalon for its GUI, was desperately slow.

Fast forward to April 2005, and Windows geek Paul Thurrott reports on Longhorn progress:

I’m reflecting a bit on Longhorn 5048. My thoughts are not positive, not positive at all. This is a painful build to have to deal with after a year of waiting, a step back in some ways. I hope Microsoft has surprises up their sleeves. This has the makings of a train wreck.

Thurrott was right. But why did Longhorn go backwards? Well, at some point – and I am not sure of the date, but I think sometime in 2004 – Microsoft decided that the .NET API for Longhorn was not working, performance was too bad, defects too many. The Windows build was rebased on the code for Server 2003 and most of .NET was removed, as documented by Richard Grimes.

Vista as we now know was not a success for Microsoft, though it was by no means all bad and laid the foundation for the well-received Windows 7. My point though is how this impacted Microsoft’s strategy for the client API. WPF was shipped in Longhorn, and also back-ported to Windows XP, but it was there as a runtime for custom applications, not as part of the core operating system.

One way of seeing this is that when Longhorn ran into the ground and had to be reset, the Windows team within Microsoft vowed never again to depend on .NET. While I do not know if this is correct, as a model it makes sense of what has subsequently happened with Silverlight, IE and HTML5, and Windows Phone:

  • Windows team talks up IE9 at PDC 2010 and does not mention Silverlight
  • Microsoft refuses to deliver a tablet version of Windows Phone OS with its .NET application API, favouring some future version of full Windows instead

Note that in 2008 Microsoft advertised for a job vacancy including this in the description:

We will be determining the new Windows user interface guidelines and building a platform that supports it. We’ll eliminate much of the drudgery of Win32 UI development and enable rich, graphical, animated user interface by using markup based UI and a small, high performance, native code runtime.

In other words, the Windows team has possibly been working on its own native code equivalent to XAML and WPF, or perhaps a native code runtime for XAML presentation markup. Maybe this could appear in Windows 8 and support a new touch-oriented user interface.

In the meantime though, Microsoft’s developer division has continued a strong push for .NET, Silverlight and most recently Windows Phone. Look at Visual Studio or talk to the development folk, and you still get the impression that this is the future of Windows client applications.

All this adds up to a muddled development story, which is costly when it comes to evangelising the platform.

In particular, eight years after PDC 2003 there is no clarity about Microsoft’s rich client or RIA (Rich Internet Application) designer and developer story. Is it really WPF, Silverlight and .NET, or is it some new API yet to be revealed, or will IE9 as a runtime play a key role?

There is now a little bit more evidence for this confusion and its cost; but this post is long enough and I have covered it separately.

Google’s web app vision: use our store

I’m at the Future of Web Applications conference in London, a crazy mixture of tips for web start-ups and general discussion about application development in a web context. The first session was from Google’s Michael Mahemoff who enthused about HTML5 and open web standards, while refusing to be pinned down on what HTML5 is, which standards are in and which may in the end be out.

Microsoft is here showing off IE9; but one of my reflections is that while the HTML5 support in IE9 is impressive in itself, there are going to be important parts of what, say, Google considers to be part of HTML5 that will not be in IE9, and given the pace of Microsoft’s browser development, probably will not turn up for some time. In other words, the pressure to switch to Chrome, Firefox or some other browser will likely continue.

I digress. Mahemoff identified four key features of web apps – by which he means something different than just an application on the web. These are:

  • Local storage – encompassing local storage API and also local SQL, though the latter is not yet well advanced
  • Application cache – Cache Manifest in HTML 5 that lets your app run offline
  • Local installation – interesting as this is something which is not yet widely used, but clearly part of Google’s vision for Chrome, and also in IE9 to some extent.
  • Payments

The last of these is interesting, and I sensed Mahemoff showing some discomfort as he steered his way between open web standards on the one hand, and Google-specific features on the other. He presented the forthcoming Chrome Web Store as the solution for taking payments for your web app, whether one-time or subscription.

I asked how this would work with regard to the payment provider – could you freely use PayPal, direct debits or other systems? He said that you could do if you wanted, but he anticipated that most users would use the system built into Chrome Web Store which I presume is Google Checkout. After all, he said, users will already be logged in, and this will offer the smoothest payment experience for them.

The side effect is that if Chrome Web Store takes off, Google gets to make a ton of money from being the web’s banker.

Outside in the exhibition area Vodafone is promoting its 360 app store, with payments going through the mobile operator, ie in this case Vodafone. Vodafone’s apps are for mobile not for web, but it is relevant because it is trying to draw users away from Google’s Android Marketplace and onto its own store. PayPal is here too, showing its developer API.

The app store and payment provider wars will be interesting to watch.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 beta is out

Head over to http://www.beautyoftheweb.com/ and you can download the beta of Internet Explorer 9, which is now up and running on my Windows 7 64-bit machine and looking good so far.

So what’s new? In terms of the rendering engine, this is like the last Platform Preview, but a little bit further along. During the briefing, we looked at at the experimental (and impressive) site put together by EMC, which shows 3D rotation of a motor vehicle along with other effects, put together entirely in HTML 5. At the time I only had the fourth platform preview installed, and the site did not work. Amusingly, I was advised to use Google Chrome, which worked fine. Now that I’ve installed the beta, the same site works in IE9, rather more smoothly than in Chrome.

What’s really new though is the user interface. The two things that jump out are the adoption of a single box for search and URL entry – many users do not understand the difference anyway – and the ability to drag tabs to the taskbar to pin them there like application shortcuts. Once pinned, they support Windows 7 Jump Lists, even when the site is not active:


If you squint at this screenshot, you’ll notice that the Discovery site, which is tweaked to use this feature, has a good-looking icon as well as a Jump List, whereas the icons adjacent to it look bad. That’s because you need to create a new large favicon to support this feature, as well as optionally adding metadata to create the Jump List. None of this is any use, of course, if you use Vista; and if you use XP you cannot even install IE9.

There’s also a download manager at last.

There’s no doubt that IE9 is miles better than IE8. Is it better than rivals like Chrome, from which a casual observer might think it has drawn inspiration? Too soon to say; but using the official native browser does have advantages, like integration with Windows Update as well integration with the OS.

That said, I’m not personally a big fan of the single box approach, and I’ll miss the permanent menus. If you press the Alt key the old File, Edit View etc magically appear, but I can’t see any way to make it persist.

Render SWF in JavaScript – a solution for Flash on iPhone/iPad?

Looking at the blazing-fast JavaScript in IE9 Preview 4 made me wonder if anyone had tried to write a SWF renderer in JavaScript. SWF is the Adobe Flash file format and a published specification.

Of course someone has. Tobias Schneider has been working on Gordon and built his first full release in June.


Gordon is a little behind in terms of version support:

In this build, Gordon can read and parse all valid SWF’s, even if they are compressed with ZLIB, but plays only SWF1 files completely, as well as the most of the SWF2 features.

The Adobe SWF specification is now up to version 10.

It is still an interesting exercise. Consider Google Web Toolkit, which compiles Java to JavaScript. What if Adobe did something similar for Flash? In fact, if you look at the Smart Paste “sneak peak” from Adobe Max 09 something like this was demonstrated.

The Flash player includes some proprietary codecs that could not easily be replicated in JavaScript. Still, given such limitations, “Export to HTML 5” would be a nice option to find on some future version of Flash Professional, and would help Adobe’s tools business even if it also dented its ambitions for Flash as the universal runtime.

Internet Explorer 9 Preview gets to 95% on Acid 3

Microsoft has released the fourth platform preview for Internet Explorer 9, which you can download here. This is the last preview before the beta release, expected in September.

When IE9 was first previewed, back in March, it scored only 55% on the Acid3 standards test – well ahead of IE8 which scores around 20%, but far short of rivals like Google Chrome and Apple Safari which achieve full marks. Mozilla Firefox is at 94%.

Acid 3

The new preview is at 95%. IE9 is now up there with them – but why not 100%?

According to UK Web Product Manager Mark Quirk, it is down to three features, two of which are related to SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). Two points are lost because of SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) presentations, which Microsoft does not intend to support because a similar feature will be part of CSS in future. Two points are lost because of SVG fonts, which again Microsoft does not intend to support because it sees WOFF (Web Open Font Format) as the future standard here. One point is lost because of the inability to draw SVG fonts on a path, though there are other ways to draw fonts on a path.

The bottom line: IE9 will most likely stay at 95% right through to its final release.

Incidentally, IE9 JavaScript performance is wildly faster than IE8, thanks to the new “Chakra” engine. IE9 is on the left, Firefox 4 on the right :


So when will we get IE9? Although it is not long to September, there is a major difference between the preview and the coming beta, which is that the preview does not have a full user interface. It is mainly to show off the rendering and JavaScript engine. Therefore we can expect new features in the beta versus the preview. Despite that, Quirk says that Microsoft intends the beta to be “good quality for any user”, not just for brave developers and testers.

But how long before the final release? Microsoft is not saying, though when I suggested the first half of 2011 as a reasonable guess, Quirk reminded me that the beta will be high quality and that the release should therefore follow “not too long” after.

Since we will get much of HTML 5 in IE alongside the other popular browsers, do we still need Silverlight?

“As the number of the things you can implement with HTML clearly goes up, the need for Silverlight and Flash goes down,” said Quirk, though he added hastily, “The value that those players add needs to go higher.”

I’d add that even if IE9 is all that we hope, it will take years before older versions fall out of use. Recently the UK government said it will stick with IE6, and whatever you think of that decision, it shows how hard it is to get browsers upgraded everywhere. By contrast, plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight get updated rather fast. I noticed on Riastats today that over 50% of browsers now have the latest Silverlight, and 39% already have Flash 10.1 – over 90% have Flash 10 or higher.


If you combine that issue with things like video playback that are problematic even in HTML 5, it suggests that plug-ins will be with us for the foreseeable future, though it is quite possible that their use may decline.

Another factor is tool support, mature for Flash and Silverlight, but not for the newest features of HTML. After IE9 appears, will Microsoft come up with tools that properly support it, in Expression Web and Visual Studio? “We have to, it’s as simple as that,” says Quirk, though he adds, “we haven’t said when.”

Big browser and RIA news: Canvas comes to Internet Explorer 9

I’ve just installed the third Internet Explorer Platform Preview (on a virtual machine just in case) and run through a few of the demos. One of the most impressive is Canvas Pad, which demonstrates the HTML 5 Canvas element.


Canvas is particularly interesting, since it provides a surface to which you can draw anything you like. Canvas support was not announced at Mix earlier this year, when IE9 was unveiled, and some of us speculated that Microsoft would omit it in order to preserve the value of its Silverlight plugin – though in doing so it would also help Adobe Flash. Well, apparently the IE9 team decided to risk it. Not only is canvas supported; it is also hardware-accelerated:

Like all of the graphics in IE9, canvas is hardware accelerated through Windows and the GPU. Hardware accelerated canvas support in IE9 illustrates the power of native HTML5 in a browser.

Is there still value in Silverlight and Flash? There is, for several reasons. A plug-in presents a predictable runtime, insulating the application from browser variations. A plugin will work on browsers that do not yet support Canvas. Further, Silverlight includes the .NET Framework with its rich library, and supports the .NET languages, whereas for HTML5 you have to use JavaScript – though don’t forget Google Web Toolkit, which compiles Java to JavaScript, and other similar projects.

Even so, once you have hardware-accelerated Canvas there will be few occasions when you absolutely have to use Flash, Silverlight or Java.

Microsoft is doing the right thing. Crippling IE for the sake of Silverlight would only push users to other browsers, so it would not achieve its goal.

A full list of what is new in IE9 is here. It is shaping up to be the most interesting new IE since version 4.0 back in 1997.