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Form Controls vs. ActiveX Controls

Instructor: David Gloag
Control technology helps speed up software development. In this lesson we'll take a look at two significant examples, form controls, and ActiveX controls.

Software Is Mightier Than the Sword?!

Software rules! Almost everything we do, and use, involves software at some level. Our cell phones have software in them that makes them run, our televisions have software in them that controls things like access to Netflix, and even our cars have software in them that controls various aspects of their operation.

With the prevalence of software today, it makes sense that manufacturers are looking for ways to simplify the development of software for their product offerings. One way is through the use of controls.

What Is a Control?

Controls, with respect to computers, are small programming code blocks that developers can 'plug' into their applications to perform specific tasks. Think of them like the tools in a toolbox. On their own, they don't perform any useful function. They simply sit there. But when you pick them up, and apply them to a specific job, they can help you solve even the most difficult problems. They also require little in the way of setup. Create them properly the first time, and they're ready to go every time after.

What Is a Form Control?

A form is a collection of controls, grouped together, that perform a specific task. A form control extends the idea of a control. It is a code block that a developer can use on one or more forms.

Think of the 'File Open' dialog on your favorite word processor. This is an example of a form, and each of the visual elements, the file list, the file name combo box, or the create folder button, are form controls. They are embedded within the application, and can be used in other dialogs throughout the application.

What Is an ActiveX Control?

An ActiveX control also extends the idea of a control. ActiveX is a technology, originally designed to make it easier to work with the Internet (World Wide Web). It is a programming API/model/framework, meaning that it is not a complete application on its own. Rather, it is technology meant to assist developers in the creation of their own applications.

It does this by removing the need to create custom code to handle specific tasks, such as the interaction with the Internet. It appears most often in Windows systems, but it is not dependent on Windows.

Differences Between the Two

At a basic level, these two technologies are the same - a control, is a control. However, they differ in a significant way.

  • Form controls are generally embedded within an application, and are part of it. They don't stand on their own. You don't see a separate file for the control at the operating system level.
  • ActiveX controls, on the other hand, are not embedded and have a file dedicated to them. They typically stand on their own.

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