Microsoft sticks with Flash in Windows XP

Digital graphics software maker Macromedia Inc. said Tuesday it will ship its ubiquitous Flash player with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system and bundled Web browser, avoiding a clash other technology makers have faced as they hustle to get their technology supported in the highly anticipated operating system.

The Flash player is a free plug-in that allows an Internet browser, such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer, to view animated cartoons or dynamic Web sites created with Macromedia's Flash technology. The player has been shipping with Windows operating systems and Internet Explorer for the past four years and is supported by roughly 97 percent of Web users, a Macromedia spokesman said.

The announcements mean customers who buy Windows XP in a package or pre-installed on a PC won't have to download a Flash player in order to view Flash content.

"Macromedia has an enormous user base, and it's got a huge footprint in the marketplace," said Dirk Coburn, director of Java and XML research at International Data Corp. "There are a lot of reasons why Microsoft would be motivated to include it with Windows XP."

Macromedia designed Flash as a tool for Web developers to create vector graphics and animation. The technology has become popular because Flash files are much smaller than bit-map images and can be delivered across the Web quickly. They can also be resized without losing image quality.

The Flash player, which Microsoft is including with the final build of Windows XP, is what end users need to view content created in Flash on a PC or a variety of other computing devices such as set-top boxes and handhelds. The player that comes with Windows XP is Macromedia's version 5.0.

Although the announcement continues a standing relationship between Macromedia and Microsoft, it bucks a trend that has surfaced as Microsoft's new operating system nears its final release to customers. A number of third-party application developers are haggling with Microsoft and PC makers to get access to Windows XP computers, some without any luck.

Every third-party application or product that gets shipped with Windows XP results from a business deal with Microsoft, said Charmaine Gravning, a product manager with Microsoft's Windows group. Although PC makers have received the final code for the software to install on manufacturer PCs, Microsoft said it will announce more partners as its nears the official Oct. 25 release. "A lot more will be defined as we get closer to launch," she said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft said in July that it would not ship a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) with the operating system or IE 6, requiring users instead to download the software on their own to run Java applications. The company stopped including support for the technology one year after settling a lawsuit with Java creator Sun Microsystems Inc. in a deal that limited Microsoft to using a four-year-old version of the JVM with its software. Most PC makers have said they will bundle their own support for Java on the machines they sell, and users can download the file on their own.

Microsoft also said that its Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) Web browser would not support Netscape-style plug-ins -- additional software that allows a user to play digital music, video and other multimedia features on some Web sites. Citing security concerns, Microsoft said it will instead use a similar technology, called ActiveX, to do those tasks.

Microsoft's decision to drop support for Netscape-style plug-ins will not affect too many customers, analysts said. So far, only Apple Computer Inc.'s OuickTime player plug-in has been found to not run in the Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) Web browser. Microsoft and Apple have since tweaked the QuickTime Player to support ActiveX controls for IE 6.

Other plug-ins, such as Flash and Adobe Inc.'s Acrobat PDF reader, will be supported in IE 6. Sun is also creating a plug-in version of the JVM with support for ActiveX controls for IE 6.

"From Microsoft's perspective, they quite rightly don't want to put hiccups in the way of Flash" because it is so widely used, said Chris Le Tocq, an analyst with Guernsey Research in Los Altos, California.

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