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What is ActiveX Programming?

ActiveX programming is a framework for defining reusable software components in a networked environment, primarily used in Microsoft platforms. It enables interactive web content, like games and videos, to run in browsers. By seamlessly integrating with the Windows operating system, ActiveX controls enhance the functionality of web pages. Wondering how this technology can impact your browsing experience? Let's examine its role further.
M. McGee
M. McGee

ActiveX programming is a framework developed by American computer software company Microsoft. This framework allows ActiveX modules, scripts and programs to exist inside other applications. The languages these other applications are written in are not affected, because the ActiveX part changes very little. While the framework is used heavily in the Microsoft Windows computer operating system, it will run in other environments. Over its history, the technology has come under fire as an Internet monopolizing tool and a computer security risk.

The technology that eventually became Active X was present in the early versions of Windows. The technology grew out of combination of various Microsoft programing methods such as component object modeling, object linking and embedding and the Microsoft foundation classes. These various programming technologies and specifications are central to the creation of Windows.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

As an effort to simplify the interaction between all of these disparate programming ideas, Microsoft developed ActiveX in 1996. In addition to the basic framework, the company also released several programming wizards, classes and language extensions. This release coincided with the release of Web browser Internet Explorer 3.0, which had native support for ActiveX embedded in Web pages. The idea behind the release was to simplify Web programming, create a richer Web environment and develop interactive Web tools.

ActiveX can be used for nearly any Web task. Typical applications involve sorting and displaying information, gathering user data, and creating interactive Web buttons and windows. These applications are downloaded to a user’s computer when he first accesses the page. The module then runs like a normal program from the Web browser’s temporary storage.

There has been controversy surrounding ActiveX since its introduction. Many of the problems stem from its perceived exclusivity to Internet Explorer and the Windows platform. Another main complaint comes from its initial lack of security.

ActiveX was a major point in many unfair competition debates regarding Microsoft, because the programming is based on Windows technology and is native to that operating system and its internal Web browser, Internet Explorer. Some argue that this amounts to suppressing competition. The technology is now only native in Internet Explorer, but many other major Web browsers have plug-ins that give them its functionality.

The other point of controversy regarded the security of ActiveX. Early forms of ActiveX allowed programs to download themselves and execute without any interaction with the user. These programs became a launching point for a huge range of malicious software, known as malware. Over the years, Microsoft has tried to prevent malicious programs from working through ActiveX with a high amount of success. While the security issues haven’t been eliminated, many in the field say they are significantly better than they were originally.

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