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Microsoft Wins HTML App Patent 404

Posted by timothy
from the portfolio-whiplash dept.
crataegus writes "'Microsoft on Tuesday won a patent for launching a certain kind of HTML application within Windows. The patent, "Method and apparatus for writing a Windows application in HTML" (Hypertext Markup Language), describes Microsoft's way of opening up HTML applications in a window free of navigation and other interface elements, known as "chrome," and browser security restrictions.' Why does this sound vaguely familiar?"
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Microsoft Wins HTML App Patent

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  • Re:XHTML (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:18PM (#7684902)

    Spoken like someone who doesn't really know what XHTML is.

    ...XHTML 1.0, a reformulation of HTML4 as an XML 1.0 application....

    XHTML(TM) 1.0 The Extensible HyperText Markup Language (Second Edition) [w3.org]

  • by Dorktrix (148287) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:27PM (#7684995) Homepage
    I haven't read the Microsoft patent, but it is not just "configurable chrome" like the Mozilla link in the post. Essentially, Microsoft applications like the "Add/Remove Programs" control panel applet are normal Windows applications that use HTML for their interface rather than normal Win32 widgets.

    The patent (I presume) is on this method, where a browser control is pointed at a DLL rather than a web server speaking HTTP. This is completely different than skinning, as it is a way of running a dynamic, HTML-based application locally without a web server.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Carnildo (712617) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:27PM (#7684996) Homepage Journal
    That's the reason for the latest change to the patent laws. It used to be 17 years from date of award. Now it's 20 years from date of filing -- and you need to file within one year of publication.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by spectecjr (31235) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:32PM (#7685027) Homepage
    You do realize that Mozilla's Chrome and the use of the term "chrome" by Microsoft to describe UI widgets are not actually related? And that the patent doesn't actually talk about anything even close to Mozilla's use of the term?

    Please. RTFP.
  • Re:Your confusion (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:45PM (#7685122)
    Chrome has its roots in earlier work than that.

    Remember Netcaster [netscape.com]?. Netcaster might have been a heinous abomination but it was still an app written in HTML, JS etc. as the link makes pretty clear.

    Or perhaps MS thinks that the patent only covers Win32-only HTML apps. In other words cripple your HTML based app so it only runs on their platform and infringe on their patent. It makes sense to someone I'm sure.

  • by Ayanami Rei (621112) * <rayanami@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:46PM (#7685138) Journal
    XUL is the eXtensible UI Layout language. It's an XML dialect that describes the layout of widgets on the screen (sort of like what Glade does, or WinForms). These widgets are hooked up with JavaScript to implement the "interactive" component of the interface, and the widgets and display elements themselves are a mix of compiled functionality from the NSPR (which may defer to real OS widgets), but the majority is actually XHTML.

    The whole thing gets packaged up in .jar files ala Java, and the URLs are accessed internally by the "chrome" protocol.

    It's quite cool. And the technology is old, so I don't see Microsoft's ability to defend its position as strong.

    (I believe this is MOSTLY accurate. Someone please correct me who is more familiar with Moz)
  • No similarities here (Score:5, Informative)

    by NickFitz (5849) <slashdot@@@nickfitz...co...uk> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:56PM (#7685212) Homepage
    Why does this sound vaguely familiar?

    I don't know. If you knew anything about Windows HTAs, you'd know that they have no discernible similarity to the Mozilla technologies you reference. That technology allows (for example) skinning. The point about HTAs is that they get rid of the browser chrome, at the same time as being nothing to do with the use of web browser-originated technology for browsing.

    The point about HTAs is that they consist of (X)HTML, JavaScript and COM (ActiveX) objects. When installed on your system, they run as applications in the Windows environment, meaning no sandboxing: file system access, etc.

    As somebody is going to sneer "Why would I let a web site do that", let me point out that this isn't anything to do with websites. If you download and install an HTA, you have to follow the same procedures as for any other software you download. Anybody distributing an HTA would probably have to package it using an installer of some kind. You can't just have one appear when you go to a site; any HTA that does anything useful needs a bunch of COM components installed in addition.

    And for those who ask "What's the point of it": one good use is for creating test harnesses for COM components. You can code up a UI with a quick bit of HTML, stick some JavaScript in there and run your test cases against the component. It's even easier than using VB to create such utility apps. It's also useful for rapid prototyping of ideas; it only takes a few minutes to explore a concept (if you're any good at JavaScript programming). But I can't imagine many people actually shipping HTAs.

    Why grant them a patent? I assume it's because they were the first to think of taking the technology out of the web browser, rearranging it in this novel way, and thereby providing a facility that wasn't there before.

    I wouldn't worry about it affecting your lives in any great way; it's specifically a Microsoft technology.

    But I still wonder why somebody would take the words 'a window free of navigation and other interface elements, known as "chrome,"' and think it was similar to a technology for adding chrome.

  • Sounds Similar (Score:3, Informative)

    by Skasta (594110) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:58PM (#7685228)
    kinda sounds like this [ibm.com]
  • 2 modified dates (Score:3, Informative)

    by Drathos (1092) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:05PM (#7685275)
    If you look at the document history link down at the bottom of the page, you'll see what the change in 2000 was. They just added a couple of anchor tags (which I don't really understand the point of).

    The April 1999 change was the last change of the content
  • by JMZero (449047) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:05PM (#7685276) Homepage
    HTA's are about being able to use HTML to create a desktop application, and treating the result as a desktop application (ie, different security arrangement and display). I can imagine how this would be useful for simple apps, especially to programmers accustomed to HTML/Script. HTA's are treated as executable code, and are not (barring an exploit) able to be popped up via web page. They are not connected to the web particularly other than that they share an underlying language, HTML. Regardless of browser, I don't imagine anyone sees them very often.

    I think the whole idea went out of favor at MS a long time ago - I haven't seen an HTA article there for a while. They apparently weren't too memorable, the comments I've read thusfar betray no understanding of what they are/were.
  • Re:What's next? (Score:4, Informative)

    by spectecjr (31235) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:24PM (#7685418) Homepage
    I've never seen MS talk about "chrome" before

    Really?

    Their "Chrome" stuff predates Mozilla. Although they're not using the word in that context.

    1998 references to Chrome from Microsoft [web3d.org]

  • by beaverbrother (586749) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:25PM (#7685428)
    The realphx and buddypicture.net virus has been using HTA applications to install itself on victims machines.
  • by KevMar (471257) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:34PM (#7685520) Homepage Journal
    Rename your .htm to .hta and run it localy on a windows system. Do a task list and you will see a mshta.exe is the task.

    Now kill it, and your page dies too

    in win2k and newer try this"
    open control Panel and run Add/Remove Programs
    You are looking at hta in action.

    kill mshta.exe again, Add/Remove Programs dies as well.

    I find HTA handy when I dont want to load visual studio for a quick app that I would rather run as a web page, but I can't because I need more system level access. A quick VBScript or JScript with a html frontend in notepad works wonders.

    FYI: Little help is actualy written for HTA, but realize it is a mix of Script and HTML working together named *.hta
  • Kiosk mode (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:45PM (#7685598)
    I'm surprised nobody's mentioned kiosk mode yet. It was implemented way back in the day of Netscape 4, at least, and Microsoft copied the feature. Or maybe it was vice-versa, it's hazy. It sounds a lot like this feature, though--basically a way to ditch all the window dressing.

    Anyway, the basic idea was to be able to run a Web browser on a machine (kiosk) without letting anybody muck around with the settings and such. Generally used with touchscreen input and the like.

    Considering that it's a technique that's been in use for years and years, it doesn't really sound like something you could patent. The Mozilla stuff just sounds like a generalization for Mozilla of the technique already used in existing browsers.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by MntlChaos (602380) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:50PM (#7685638)
    actually, they're the same thing. Both refer to the elements of the GUI except content. For instance, mozilla's chrome is the xul and js that specifies what the stuff in the window is and what it does.
  • by Roydd McWilson (730636) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:52PM (#7685647) Journal
    But my lecturer says the main distinction is that languages fall into three categories: imperative (assembly, C, BASIC, etc.), functional (Haskell and all that) and logic (prolog). How does that fit with your idea of programming languages?
    That is the standard categorization used, but you are right that there are other distinctions, such as line-based vs. structured. Similarly along these lines we have lexical vs. dynamic scoping, strong vs. weak typing, explicit vs. implicit typing, and sequential vs. implicit vs. explicit concurrency. There's also a general sense of "how much you have to type" to write or modify a program, i.e. how compact the notation is. Note that Visual Basic (and Quick Basic before it) are actually structured languages, unlike the line-number-oriented BASICs before them.
    I think one of the most useful combinations of language features is something compact, between imperative and functional with structured, lexically scoped, implicit static typing with built-in support for (including fine-grain) explicit concurrency (explicit concurrency is required for on-line I/O, which conflicts with a pure functional language's simple input-compute-output-stop program model). Unfortunately, there aren't any popular languages like this (especially for good concurrency & I/O support).
  • by dcam (615646) <david&uberconcept,com> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:07PM (#7685749) Homepage
    I think you'll find that the patent granted on the wheel was not in fact a patent as we understand patents. A new class of 'patents', innovation patents, was created. These patents are granted *without examination*. My understanding was that you would apply for one of these patents in preparation for appyling for a 'full' patent.

    The guy who registered the wheel was rightly pointing out the ridulous nature of the new patents.
    http://www.ipmenu.com/archive/AUI_200110 0012.pdf
  • Re:Well.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by IntlHarvester (11985) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:32PM (#7685914) Journal
    HTML Applications (HTAs) appeared with Internet Explorer 4.0, which was introduced in 1997, I believe. Long before the Mozilla project started.

    HTAs are basically web pages that have no security model and can bind with local COM objects. They are deployed by copying them to your hard drive rather than pulling them from the network. As the article mentions, Windows now uses these heavily for things like control panels.

    As a side-note, the HTA "feature" is of the main causes of IE security problems. Apparently the browser can be easily confused as to what 'zone' it is in, which can allow malicious code to bypass security checks.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by rfmobile (531603) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @09:01PM (#7686100) Homepage
    I read the patent. I've written XUL applications using Mozilla. The claims covered by the patent are functionally the same to XUL chrome. -rick
  • by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @09:27PM (#7686274) Journal
    From the Jargon File: Line Noise [ic.ac.uk]

    1. Spurious characters due to electrical noise in a communications link, especially an EIA-232 serial connection. Line noise may be induced by poor connections, interference or crosstalk from other circuits, electrical storms, cosmic rays, or (notionally) birds crapping on the phone wires.

    2. Any chunk of data in a file or elsewhere that looks like the results of electrical line noise.

    3. Text that is theoretically a readable text or program source but employs syntax so bizarre that it looks like line noise. Yes, there are languages this ugly. The canonical example is TECO, whose input syntax is often said to be indistinguishable from line noise. Other non-WYSIWYG editors, such as Multics "qed" and Unix "ed", in the hands of a real hacker, also qualify easily, as do deliberately obfuscated languages such as INTERCAL.

    (I'll point out that VB is nothing like those languages. But if you type gibberish, it will autocorrect until you've got a running program. Almost.)
  • by richieb (3277) <richieb AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @09:39PM (#7686337) Homepage Journal
    The patent system most definitely DOES generate innovation. Coming up with new drugs can cost billions of dollars, and that's not likely to happen out of the goodness of mankind.

    A lot of those billions are spent on marketing not research. In addition a lot of the fundamental research is done by public institutions, because for profit companies are more reclutant to spend money that may produce some return in 10 years time.

    See this article [salon.com] in Salon...for instance.

  • Re:XHTML (Score:2, Informative)

    by Trejkaz (615352) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @10:59PM (#7686840) Homepage

    Use <object>. There's always a way to cheat to make it work for Mozilla, and usually it is something like..

    <object ...IE properties...>
    <!--[if !IE]> -->
    <object ...Mozilla properties...>
    </object>
    <!-- <![endif]-->
    </object>

    That's valid even by XHTML 1.1, should work on both browsers (I use it all the time for Java applets), and doesn't use any Javascript.

  • Re:W3C or GPL? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ucblockhead (63650) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @11:44PM (#7687084) Homepage Journal
    No, the GPL does not protect against patents. Prior art does, but copyrights (which is what the GPL is) are trumped by patents.
  • ahhhggg ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @07:45AM (#7688736)

    It's very instructive to read a /. story about something I actually know. Is the pack always this boneheaded? I know, I know "you must be new here" ;)

    1. XUL is not prior art, or even the same thing, other than they both have something to do with browsers. XUL let you customize Mozilla's chrome (basically), which is really cool for specialized WEB applications, like an Amazon browser. HTAs let you dispense with IE's chrome entirely, and access the LOCAL system like any local app.
    2. This has nothing to do with exploits, popups, etc. HTAs are intended to be local apps - they have no more access than any other local app you install (which is basically, full access, practically speaking in most cases). If you come across one hosted at a website and keep clicking Yes, well, you don't need an HTA for that ...
    3. XUL and HTA are for different problem spaces. Yeah, Mozilla probably has some kind of signed scripting mode that could access local resources, you probably could dispense with most or all chrome and build the interface in the content viewport, etc. Or you could just rename an .html file to .hta, add one special tag with some attributes (if I recall correctly, and even that might be optional) and you're there.
  • by randall_burns (108052) <randall_burns@hotmai l . com> on Thursday December 11, 2003 @11:20AM (#7690412)
    I checked http://www.opensecrets.org/softmoney/index.asp and
    http://www.opensecrets.org/indivs/index.asp

    I was fully expecting to find donations from IBM employees/officers. I was utterly surprised to find none.

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