Microsoft Outlaws Flash on Touch-Interface IE 10

Microsoft announced on Wednesday that it will ship two versions of Internet Explorer 10, one for traditional desktop use and another for “Metro,” the “touch-first” aspect of Windows 8 that is aimed at tablets and touch-interface PCs. The company has followed in Apple’s footsteps with this version by making it plug-in free, which means no Flash.

The Flash Tally so Far

The Flash Tally so Far

Windows 8 is the next major version of Windows, and it’s scheduled to be released in 2012. Part of the point of Windows 8 is to deliver a more or less unified operating system and experience to tablets and PCs, all in one fell swoop. Unified or not, however, the company intends to include two different versions of IE 10, in part because the company believes that, “The experience that plug-ins provide today is not a good match with Metro style browsing and the modern HTML5 Web.”

The company apparently took the time to analyze the use of plugins across the top 97,000 websites and found that 62% of them used Flash, but that many of those, “already fall back to HTML5 video in the absence of plug-in support.”

“The reality today is that sites are already rapidly engineering for a plug-in free experience,” Steven Sinofsky, President of Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live Division wrote in a blog post, without actually mentioning that this is the case because of Apple’s refusal to support Flash on its iOS devices.

In addition, he noted that, “Running Metro style IE plug-in free improves battery life as well as security, reliability, and privacy for consumers. Plug-ins were important early on in the web’s history. But the web has come a long way since then with HTML5. Providing compatibility with legacy plug-in technologies would detract from, rather than improve, the consumer experience of browsing in the Metro style UI.”

These are all similar reasons given by then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs in an open letter titled “Thoughts on Flash” where he explained why Apple wasn’t supporting Flash on its mobile platform, It raised a hullabaloo at the time (and since), and Apple’s lack of Flash on iOS has been a rallying points for Android fans, as Android theoretically supports the technology. It’s also been an advertising point for tablet makers who have tried (and failed) to gain a market foothold with their tablets by claiming Flash support.

To offer a remarkably mixed metaphor, Microsoft looked at the line Apple drew in the sand on the issue and decided that the grass was greener on the side where tablets don’t have Flash. Whether or not that helps Microsoft move Windows 8-powered tablets remains to be seen, of course.

In the meanwhile, we should stress that the desktop version of IE 10 will support traditional plugins, and that includes Flash and other legacy plugin technologies that bring their plugins to the new browser.