Microsoft has confirmed its commitment to a separate and separately-optimized ecosystem in Metro by announcing via the ever-interesting Building Windows 8 blog that IE10 in Metro will not support plug-ins. This includes Flash, of course, which gives the announcement the same flavor, if not the same substance, as Apple’s famous rejection of that particular technology. This is much more mild, though it is significant all the same.
Microsoft has always been a fan of plug-ins, but the more recent versions of IE have been much more standards-orientated. IE6 was simply a vessel for web plug-ins, but IE9 is far more integrative and streamlined. IE10, at least in Metro, will take it to the next logical step, which is eliminating plug-ins altogether.
The decision is a pragmatic one, really. The tablet form of Windows 8 will be focused on basic web consumption, bespoke full-screen apps, and tablet-like long life and ease of use. For many use cases where Flash or other plugins may have been necessary in the past (video and audio are the majority), new standards and containers are making native implementation faster, simpler, and more secure. And since the desktop form of 8 will be accessible at all times, it’s a snap to switch to the more full-featured IE10. Just hit a button on a page that requires a plug-in, and you’re whipped into full desktop mode.
It’s not the most elegant solution, but it’s a solution, whereas Apple offers only cold consolation. Some of the internet is inaccessible to iOS users, plain and simple, and this won’t be the case for Windows 8 tablets. That counts as a strength to many, though perhaps just as many have accepted Apple’s premise that if it doesn’t work on the iPad, it probably wasn’t worth it anyway.
Having this reduced functionality in the Metro version of the app concerns me a little bit, though, as it seems to make it less of a “real” app and by extension makes a Windows 8 tablet in Metro mode less of a “real” PC. Is this a single-case design decision, or one of many apps in which the Metro/tablet app will be a little bit inferior?
On reflection, it’s not so much of a compromise as some may think. The decision to streamline an app has practical benefits. Safari on the iPad is as no-frills as it gets, and it sacrifices a ton of functionality to be that way. Why should we have a double standard for Microsoft? Here they provide a “dumb” version that can either be tolerated or switched to a full version with a single touch. They provide a choice where Apple doesn’t.
Furthermore, it’s almost certain that plug-ins will be supported by third-party browsers like Firefox. Microsoft is simply choosing the market it wants to define on its own tablets. Being the Swiss army knife is too much of a commitment, especially on Windows, which is itself already an impractically-large Swiss army knife.
Yet I still feel that Microsoft may be unable to follow through on its early promises that the Metro interface would be just as powerful and full-featured as the desktop some of us know and love. I want it to be true, but without some sorcery I don’t think it’s going to be that way at first.
Adobe has said something on this topic here, where it notes that it will be bringing Flash content to Metro via Air and likely the app store. Whether it will be a pleasant experience remains to be seen (much relies on the content itself; many Flash items aren’t optimized for touch), but it’s worth noting that this is far from the total dissociation from Flash that Apple has been pushing.
You can read our early impressions of Windows 8 here, but unfortunately the wi-fi in our device had trouble authenticating, so we were unable to test the browser. Don’t worry: we’ll have ample time to test it over the next year or so before the OS is released.