There's been talk of replacing Flash with HTML5 across many corners of the industry, but Microsoft might have taken the boldest step yet. On the official Building Windows 8 blog earlier this morning, Microsoft revealed that the Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 will be "plug-in free." Translation: no Flash.
Users will encounter the Metro version of IE10 when they boot up into Windows 8's new, touch-friendly tile interface. Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky notes that plug-ins like Flash will remain supported in the "desktop" version of IE10. Users will be able to switch quickly to the old-school desktop via a tile on the new Start screen. The Metro version of IE10 has a similar menu option, too.
I fired up the Windows 8 Developer Preview for a quick reality check. Sure enough, even after installing the Flash plug-in, IE10 flat-out refused to display Flash YouTube videos in the Metro interface. Flipping to the desktop interface allowed the same videos to play without a hitch. HTML5 videos played happily in both interfaces.
Why phase out plug-in support? IE team chief Dean Hachamovitch provides this explanation:
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.
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.
Hachamovitch goes on to point out that more and more major websites are embracing HTML5, with many of them using it as a fallback when visitors don't have Flash installed (namely on mobile browsers).
Microsoft seems to have turned over a new leaf since Internet Explorer development efforts resumed a few years back, and its advocacy of open standards certainly seems like a positive thing for the web. Seeing Apple's staunch anti-Flash advocacy (and its lack of support for it on iOS) validated in such a way is interesting, too—although perhaps not entirely surprising. I've played with Flash on several tablets and smartphones that support it, and I always found the experience sluggish and somewhat glitchy, especially on Flash sites designed for mouse input.