What are ActiveX Controls?

Instructor: David Gloag

David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science

The Internet was not so easy to use as it is now. In this lesson, we'll take a look at ActiveX and ActiveX Controls, technologies that made the Internet much easier to use. We'll learn exactly what they are and why we would use them.

Remembering the Past

Have you ever wondered why it is so easy to do things on the Internet these days? Technology has advanced to the point where you work with the Internet as easy as working on the desktop of your home computer. But it wasn't always this way. There was a time (prior to the 1990s), where it was as painful as pulling teeth. Tools existed that helped, such as rudimentary browsers and gophers. However, they weren't particularly robust, or easy to use. Fortunately, a company realized this problem, and created technology to address it. That technology is called ActiveX.

What is ActiveX?

ActiveX is a technology, introduced by Microsoft in the late 1990s, 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.

What is an ActiveX Control?

An ActiveX control is the embodiment of this idea. The controls 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 purpose. 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.

What Do We Use ActiveX Controls for?

ActiveX controls are used for a number of things, and there are many third parties that develop them. We most often see them in conjunction with our computer browsers, providing data entry, document interaction, and communications over the Internet. They are the technology that makes working with our browser feel the same as working with our desktop applications. The line is so blurred these days that you may not realize that an application is browser-based. But they also exist behind-the-scenes, providing functionality to desktop applications like Word and Excel.

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