Web Developers: Did you miss this, too?
Back in March, Microsoft quietly rolled out a set of updates to IE 6 (IE 7 will ship with the "fix") that radically changed the way the browser handles ActiveX controls like Flash, Real, and other ActiveX controls loaded by the APPLET, EMBED, or OBJECT elements. This update results in the "Click to activate and use this control" tool tip (see illustration) and a ghastly outline around the component when you mouse-over the element.
This update stems from the loss of a lawsuit regarding a patent dispute between Microsoft and Autodesk vs. Eolas Technology and the University of California. The lawsuit alleges that Eolas owns a patent that covers the way ActiveX controls are embedded--a method that Microsoft apparently used without payment to the patent holder. After several unsuccessful attempts to have the patent invalidated, Microsoft finally settled for a reported $260 million in damages plus interest and started pushing the "fix" to end users in March, 2006.
This "fix" effectively turns ActiveX off by default. The result is that after an IE user dutifully updates their browser with the latest bunch of security fixes, Flash and other embedded components no longer work without clicking on them first. This means that if you have a Flash element embedded in your design and you view the site through an updated version of IE6 (or IE7), you now get a tooltip asking users to click to activate the control. When nothing happens (for instance if you use Flash solely for animation), it leads users to believe believe that the site is broken.
Speaking for myself, this change in behavior is easy to miss. I use primarily use Firefox and Safari and fire up IE only for bug checking. Since I didn't know about the update, I didn't know to test for it and only recently stumbled upon the behavior as part of some other testing. Checking my other sites, sure enough, they all exhibited the same problem. Than you, Microsoft.
The good news is that there are several well-tested work-arounds. If you have Dreamweaver and have updated the app recently, you already have the fix. Simply insert a Flash file into a sandbox file and see how Dreamweaver handles the code. This same technique is also discussed in Adobe's Developer Center article, "Active Content Update Article." Other work-arounds exist as well, including Microsoft's own MSDN article, "Activating ActiveX Controls" and others listed on various Google-able forums. The lawsuit is discussed in detail in Microsoft's Beta News article, ""Microsoft Rolls Out IE6 ActiveX Change".
For such a big change, I am genuinely surprised that this did not crop up in the mainstream tech press. There are no mentions of this update on CNet or Digg, and Newsvine picked up a lone AP story on this back in April.
This is a painful transition. Those of us who use Flash in our designs now have to go back to every site we've created and implement this fix. I smell a class action lawsuit coming.