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Microsoft tweaks Explorer to address ruling

The software maker moves ahead with what it calls "modest changes" to its Internet browser as a result of the patent suit brought against it by Eolas Technologies.

Microsoft on Tuesday released what it called "modest changes" to Windows and Internet Explorer as a result of the patent suit brought against it by Eolas Technologies.

As previously reported, the software giant prepared the changes in hopes of sidestepping claims of the Eolas patent while preserving Explorer's ability to run plug-in applications from companies including Apple Computer, Macromedia and RealNetworks. Microsoft also posted a preview of the browser for Web developers who use it to design their own sites and applications.

In August, a federal court in Chicago ruled that Microsoft must pay $521 million to Eolas and the University of California after finding that IE infringed on a patent related to plug-in technology. The university owns the patent, which it licensed to Eolas in 1994.

Although Eolas suggested that Microsoft pay licensing fees related to the disputed patent, the software-making titan decided to alter the browser while continuing to appeal the court's decision.

"This ruling affects more than just Microsoft; it affects a broad array of partners and customers--including companies that many would view as competitors," Michael Wallent, general manager of the Windows Client Platform at Microsoft, said in a statement. "Microsoft has been very proactive in reaching out to this group to develop steps that will reduce or eliminate the ruling's impact on consumers and other companies, even as we appeal it," he said.

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The alterations proposed by the Redmond, Wash., company include changes to the manner in which IE handles some Web pages that use ActiveX Controls, object-oriented programming technologies and tools found in plug-in software such as Macromedia's Flash, Apple's QuickTime and RealNetworks' RealOne. Microsoft said it expects to make the changes to IE by early 2004.

If Web developers choose not to implement Microsoft's recommended changes, visitors to their sites may see a pop-up box informing them of such before IE will load any affected plug-in software. Microsoft also said it was working with partners to create guidelines for building Web pages that would render the use of the pop-up box unnecessary.

Since plug-ins are also a key feature of other Web browsers, it is thought that the Eolas decision could affect other vendors such as Opera Software and contributors to open-source groups like Other potential targets include companies that redistribute open-source browser software or base products on such programs including Red Hat, SuSE Linux, Apple and Hewlett-Packard.

CNET's Paul Festa contributed to this report.