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What is ActiveX?

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 has provided a wealth of opportunities, both from a business and personal perspective. In this lesson, we'll take a look at ActiveX, what it is, what it's used for, and some of its strengths and weaknesses.

A Nod to What Was

No one can deny that the Internet has changed over the years, and the technology used has changed along with it. Today, we work with the Internet as easily as we work with any desktop application. In fact, it is increasingly hard to tell the difference between the two. Sadly, this wasn't always the case. Before the 1990's, accessing the Internet was a difficult chore. Browsers existed to be sure, but they were nowhere near as useful as they are today. Luckily, someone noted this problem and recognized the Internet's potential, and developed technology that would change the Internet forever. That technology is called ActiveX.

What is ActiveX?

ActiveX is an enabling technology developed by Microsoft, whose sole purpose was to make it easier to access the Internet. By enabling, we mean technology that was meant to be incorporated into, or used with, other products rather than be useful by itself. It consists of a set of tools and API's (application programming interfaces) and is designed to provide programmers with a framework to assemble Internet enabled software. Think of it like buying unsweetened chocolate chips at the grocery store. You wouldn't use them on their own (they are somewhat bitter), but they go great in baked goods such as cookies. You see ActiveX primarily on the Windows operating system (another Microsoft product), but it was designed to be used anywhere.

What is ActiveX Used for?

ActiveX is used to enable parts of a program to run in a browser. And because of this, it can be used for a number of things including data entry, document interaction, and communications. In other words, almost anything a desktop application can do. In fact, the technology is so transparent that it's likely you can't tell a browser-based application from its desktop equivalent. As you might imagine, this is very powerful and forms the basis for a number of applications available today. Microsoft produces several examples including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Visio.

What are the Advantages of ActiveX?

ActiveX carries with it a number of advantages. Of particular note are the following:

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