Windows 8: two flavors of IE, one without Flash

Well after a few false starts, I have the Developer Preview of Windows 8 running on my last generation desktop system (an Intel Core2 Quad running at 2.4GHz with 3 gigs of RAM). I tried running under VMWare Player, but ran into an error, then I tried running it under VirtualBox, where it worked but felt kind of pokey (disclaimer: I am not a virtual machine guru by any stretch of the imagination; it very well could have been that I had some settings wrong). Then I remembered my old machine had two drives in it, so I cleared off the second one, installed Windows 8 and now I'm dual booting. It runs like a dream on this hardware now, but then if it's going to run on tablets I guess it'd better run well on a last gen desktop.

Thus far I'm still in the "Oooo, shiny!" phase of discovery, and when I run into clunky corners of the OS I'm trying to stay optimistic since it's such an early build. So when I launched Internet Explorer from the Metro UI and hit a page that gave me a "Flash required" message, I didn't think too much of it. I headed to Adobe's page and ran the Flash plug-in installer (which flipped me out of Metro UI and into the traditional Windows desktop), then flipped back to Metro UI and fired up IE and...still got the same message. Again, it wasn't totally unexpected that Windows 8's early version of IE and the Flash plugin wouldn't play well together and I wrote it off as something not yet implemented.

It was only later that I happened to launch IE from the traditional desktop view that I realized that Windows 8 inexplicably ships with two variants of IE, and the IE 10 that launches from the desktop does support Flash. That's going to be a point of confusion with end users! Plus as a web developer I'm groaning at the idea of having not one, but two new versions of IE to support.

So, Flash works in desktop IE, doesn't work in Metro IE. I was still assuming this was a bug until I read this post from IE team team lead Dean Hachamovitch: Metro style browsing and plug-in free HTML5. Turns out this isn't a bug or a 'not-yet-implemented' thing. The Metro version of IE won't support Flash or any other plug-ins. And before we start accusing Microsoft of going after Adobe, Apple-style, Metro IE won't support ActiveX either; they're going for a pure HTML5 experience.

As someone who can't wait for Flash to go away I can't help but support this decision. However sometimes skipping Flash just isn't practical. For those times, it's pretty easy to flip over to Desktop IE. Right click (I'm not sure how all this works using touch controls) to expose the Metro IE UI, then click on the 'dogeared page' icon that's second from the right on the bottom, and choose 'Use desktop view' from the pop-up window. You'll open the page you're currently on in the other version of IE with full Flash support.

If you're still in a reading mood, Hachamovitch has another interesting post about why they're going with two versions of IE in Windows 8. In that post, he assures us that both versions use the same browsing engine (so maybe my groaning was premature), and that they share history, settings and so on.

I think it's going to be interesting to watch end-user reaction to this decision. On the one hand, it seems like quite a bold move on the part of Microsoft. On the other, it seems completely pointless, given how easy it is to flip over to Flash-enabled IE. At best it seems to me it'll make people more aware of when they're using Flash or other plug-ins because they'll have that extra step of flipping browser versions.

Have you been playing with Windows 8, and if so, what's your experience been like so far? Please share in the comments.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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