by John December

What is ActiveX?

Developed by Microsoft corporation, ActiveX is a technology used to add interactivity to Web pages. With ActiveX, you can add interactive controls to Web pages. These controls can be anything from a single push-button to a complete spreadsheet.

Web developers can use Microsoft's Visual Basic Scripting Edition (VBScript) to create ActiveX controls. There are many ActiveX controls available because ActiveX technology is an adaptation of Microsoft's OLE and COM Windows standards that have been around a long time.

ActiveX controls only work in certain browsers. Of course, Microsoft's latest release of its own Web browser, Internet Explorer, recognizes ActiveX controls. Netscape Navigator browser does not recognize these controls.

Developers include ActiveX controls on Web pages using the OBJECT element of HTML 4. The user's browser downloads ActiveX controls when needed. In this way, ActiveX controls are similar to Java applets.

What is the Big Deal About ActiveX?

Ideally, ActiveX adds interactivity to Web pages. Since ActiveX controls are essentially OLE controls, they are familiar to many developers and there are many ready to be used.

Microsoft is pushing ActiveX. Therefore, resistance is futile.

Who is Using ActiveX?

See Microsoft.

My opinion of ActiveX?

ActiveX is (another) Microsoft strategy for market dominance. Like a lot of Microsoft-centric software, ActiveX is bloated, awkward to use, slow, and has a tendency to make the experience of browsing the Web unpleasant. When encountering some ActiveX controls, my browser often locks up, slows down, freezes up, and crashes.

More seriously, there are security risks inherent in the ActiveX model. ActiveX security rests on the "Authenticode" system which is a scheme for identifying the authors of ActiveX controls. Security is therefore based on trust.

ActiveX and VBScript serve, at best, a niche role in intranets, where the developers know that all their users have an Internet Explorer browser.

Information Sources for ActiveX

  • www.ActiveX.com: a mega-center for ActiveX controls, from c|net.

  • Microsoft: ActiveX developer information, from Microsoft.
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