In the interests of security and positive user experience on a touchscreen, Microsoft chose to block Flash on all but their pre-vetted list of sites for anybody running Internet Explorer 10 in the Windows 8 Modern UI or anywhere on Windows RT. That policy has been revised as of today and Windows Update will be delivering a change to the system. Moving forward Flash will work by default on all sites unless they have been marked as blacklisted.
The underlying rationale behind the whitelist approach was described in terms of immersion concerns. Because many Flash apps were not considered optimized for touch, reliability, minimal power usage, etc., they would interfere with Microsoft’s vision of how people should be enjoying their time in Internet Explorer. This is obviously of particular interest for the company given their need to demonstrate an excellent tablet interface.
On the other side of things, security has to be a major concern even now. Flash, like Java, is a hole in practically any system. There is a certain amount of overprotectiveness at work here that caused some problems. Fortunately they seem to be moving on. While it is true that Flash will continue to be the source of many troubles for all PC users in the months to come, it’s not a good idea to try to save the user from themselves.
By taking over the update process for the IE10 Flash plugin, a layer of security has already been introduced. There is little else that could reasonably be done on Microsoft’s end without continuing to infringe on browsing freedom.
According to a recent MSDN blog, fewer than 4% of flash applications floating around the net are considered incompatible with the IE10 experience. These will now make up the Compatibility View list, which was formerly the term for the whitelisted Flash sites, and will be blocked.
Overall we can take this to be either a step toward reasonable practices or simply an acknowledgement of the impossibility of the task they had set themselves. For Microsoft to actually maintain a working list of safe, compatible Flash sites on the internet would require far more time and energy than seems worth the effort. Given the rate of expansion for the internet and the obscurity of some applications, there is no possible way an ongoing review could hope to keep up.
Those who have had to hack their Windows 8 system files to allow Flash to function on unapproved sites will no longer have that hassle to deal with. Everybody gets a more usable internet experience from the Modern UI version of Internet Explorer. There are improvements all around.
Does any of this make IE10 the browser of choice for 2013? Probably not. As we’ve noted here before, it has become a fine option after a long time at the bottom but it still doesn’t offer any compelling reasons to drop the competition. In time there may be improved HTML5 support and a superior overall experience, but for now this will probably only be a major advantage to those who are forced to use the browser for whatever reason and those who choose to because of the superior HTML5 touch handling that it brings to the table.