Friday, June 14, 2024

Pop-ups Are Coming to Screens Near You

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I wrote in

last week’s
Executive Tech that Unicast, a New York-based advertising
agency, had developed a new online pop-up format that could evade the
“pop-up blockers” used by many companies.

The ad firm has designed an innovative series of 30-second, full-motion video
commercials for clients such as Pepsi, Honda, and Warner Brothers. When a PC
user visits high-traffic sites such as, ESPN, or MSN, a video file
is silently downloaded in the background. After the download is complete,
the video expands to full-screen size and starts playing automatically
the next time the user happens to switch from one window to another.

Your company may find these new “top-of-desktop” videos to be
a terrific form of advertising. Or you may find them to be a terrific
waste of time for your employees — as they watch automotive ads and movie
trailers instead of doing whatever you’re paying them to do.

Pop-up blocker companies are planning to strike back. I predict the war for
control of your monitors has just begun.

Now See This — Videos In Your Face

I learned several fascinating things about the new, pop-up videos after
interviewing Unicast executives and conducting my own experiments:

Java-based videos.
Unicast uses Java to download its 2 MB files in Windows Media Player format.
“We use a Java applet technology versus what everybody else does with
JavaScript,” says senior vice president John dePar. The firm’s technology
ensures that a file has downloaded completely before it plays. This gives
the resulting video a smooth playback, even at full-screen size, as opposed
to real-time or “streaming” video, which can be noticeably uneven.

Virtual machine required.
The ad firm’s

video troubleshooting page
points out that PC users must be using Windows,
Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player 7 or higher in order to see
the video commercials. More importantly, the user must have either
Microsoft’s VM (virtual machine) or Sun’s competing Java VM installed and
enabled. But Microsoft, due to a legal
dispute, did not
include a VM in Windows XP, except as an on-demand download, and ceased
those downloads after July 10, 2002. So some PC users may not be able to
run Java applets automatically.

The problem with plug-ins.
In testing Unicast’s video commercials, I found they wouldn’t play under
the stricter Internet security settings that are typically invoked by
Microsoft’s new Outlook 2003 e-mail program. I was able to permit or block the
pop-ups’ playback by changing an Internet Explorer (IE) setting known as
“Run ActiveX controls and plug-ins.” This setting can easily be customized by
any user via IE’s Tools, Internet Options, Security menu.

If an end user can change settings that allow or deny the running of video
pop-ups, the developers of commercial pop-up blocker software should be
able to accomplish this, too. Funny thing — that’s exactly what two
of the most popular utility publishers say they’re already doing.

Pop-Up Stopper Is On The Case

When asked about Unicast’s new pop-up technology, Nick Skrepetos, who
represents the highly-rated Pop-Up Stopper program, said a forthcoming version
of his company’s software would definitely be able to prevent video commercials
from appearing on users’ screens. Skrepetos is the president and co-founder
the maker of Pop-Up Stopper. The software was the No. 1
download from PC World Magazine’s Web site at one point in 2003.

The current version of Pop-Up Stopper is release 1.6. Skrepetos said the
next major upgrade would be available by the 2nd quarter of 2004. In addition
to being able to block Unicast’s pop-up videos, he claims, the new release
will also block “all the new style of ads that use Flash, such as the MSN
ads that have a butterfly hovering over the screen.”

WinSettings Plans an Upgrade As Well

Another pop-up blocker program, WinSettings, is also scheduled for an upgrade
with Unicast’s pop-up videos in its sights. The utility has been rated 5 out
of 5 stars by such software reviewers as PC Magazine, ZDNet, and Tucows.

Yao Chu, president of
, which makes WinSettings, said in an interview that
anything the security configuration options of IE can control, the
next version of WinSettings could control also.

He added that PC users who don’t have the latest
patches for Windows
Media Player face security issues from .wmv files. These files contain video
information for the player but can also cause it to run unexpected commands.
“For anything to come in and play itself, that’s very, very scary,” Chu said.
“That could be something malicious, with that extension.”


The war between the pop-up blockers and the pop-up sellers doesn’t look
as though it’ll be ending any time soon. The best thing you can do is
educate yourself about pop-up technology — and decide how much of it
you think should be running automatically on your company’s computers.

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