ActiveX – What is it, definition and concept

The ActiveX software environment is a tool by which applications and extensions oriented to certain types of websites can be developed.

In other words, it is a way of inserting certain functionalities to be able to interact with web pages, via Microsoft technology.

The Internet Explorer browser uses this type of technology, although it is becoming increasingly obsolete. Proof of this is that Microsoft Edge, the successor to Internet Explorer, does not include it.

History of ActiveX

It is important to know the path that this environment has had in technology in the last 20 years, since although it was born in 1996, it was not until the first decade of the 21st century (2000-2010) when it experienced a boom in its use.

Its beginnings occurred mainly with the appearance of Internet Explorer 3.0, in which for the first time the controls were installed automatically without any user interaction. Although it was a great advance in terms of fluidity, it was also the first stone on the road: security in the process.

Despite reluctance in some aspects of the technology, it continued to be widely used between 2000 and 2014, since it was in 2015 that Microsoft announced that it would no longer support ActiveX-based plug-ins.

That same year, in 2015, this type of technology would be definitively terminated in the company, since the launch of Microsoft Edge was also announced, which worked with HTML5 instead of ActiveX.

Another important date to keep in mind is the stoppage of updates and new downloads of Adobe Flash Player, which took place in January 2021.

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ActiveX Features

Although we already know that ActiveX was the default way of creating and including applications in the Windows browser, it is also true that other technologies have been developed based on it, such as Adobe in its Flash Player versions.

Then, to better understand the functionality and characteristics of this environment, some of its main characteristics will be detailed below:

  • They can be used to play content. It monopolizes audio, video and similar reproductions included in the web itself.
  • They have the ability to monitor user activity. This is one of the main reasons why this type of technology has been neglected. Its security problems are notable to say the least and are not easy to rectify. In a malicious way, almost any interaction that the user has with the PC can be measured.
  • They serve to complement certain functions of the web. One of the most used were pop-up windows, which are still used, although not with this type of technology.
  • They could only be programmed using object-oriented language, such as C++, C#, VB, JAVA, PHP or Python, among others.

As can be seen, although the usefulness was evident, the aforementioned security problems were what, over time, displaced this web application environment.

ActiveX Usage Examples

Some of the programs or applications in which this environment was used the most were:

  • Internet Explorer.
  • MicrosoftOffice.
  • Adobe FlashPlayer.
  • MozillaFirefox.
  • Google Chrome.

The use of ActiveX was marked by the hegemony that Microsoft had over its competitors, since some websites were mainly optimized for Internet Explorer and were not optimally visible in other browsers and even in operating systems other than Windows.

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That is why, since its decline (of ActiveX) and the rise of HTML5 and other initiatives, the democratization of applications and plug-ins (application extensions) has grown.

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