A Slow Death for ActiveX?

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-02-02 Print this article Print

Opinion: For many reasons the writing is on the blog for the much-maligned programming interface.

The Microsoft of recent decades has been much more willing than in the past to cast its own bright ideas aside and do what its customers want instead. Every few weeks we see another example of this in Internet Explorer 7. The more I see of IE 7 the more I think its going to make a big splash when it hits the scenes. Even though its a better browser on Windows Vista than on earlier versions of the operating system, its got some impressive features on Windows XP as well. Many of them come from Microsofts willingness to adopt a Firefox feature or abandon something thats been in IE for years. Consider the way IE 7 starts what I think is a long-term shift away from ActiveX.

Ive always thought ActiveX got a bum rap, all things considered. From Day 1 it has been the subject of dire predictions and warnings, and a conventional wisdom has emerged among some that its a major source of vulnerability and an object of attack. None of this is true, but truth isnt the only thing that matters.

My interest in all this was piqued by Microsofts announcement (typically, for these days, through a blog) that IE7 will have a native XMLHTTPRequest object as opposed to one implemented in an ActiveX control, as is the case with IE 6.

Click here to read about how support for AJAX development is rising.

XMLHTTPRequest, which allows Web-based scripts to themselves perform HTTP transactions, is one of the main enabling features of AJAX, a new generation of Web applications with rich (for a browser) user interfaces. Microsoft really is the pioneer of such things starting with their Outlook Web Access.

The fact that XMLHTTPRequest in IE 7 will be a native control will matter very little to programmers who will simply need to include a few lines of script to test for the native control and use it, or the ActiveX version of it isnt. This is something that needs to be done only once, and so can be done once in a central include file or a global.asa, and the bulk of the software will remain unmodified. Actually, they dont even really need to do make that change. If your program uses the ActiveX version it will continue to work, but you will have new possibilities.

Next page: More ActiveX restrictions.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel