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Readers: ActiveX sputters out

Almost three-quarters of respondents to a NEWS.COM Poll say the technology's future looks gloomy, at best.

The key word in predicting ActiveX's demise is not "if" but "when," according to the majority of responses to a NEWS.COM Poll about the technology's future as a Web development tool.

When asked "Does ActiveX have a future as a Web development tool?" almost three-quarters of the respondents scoffed at the possibility of ActiveX living a useful life much longer. Microsoft (MSFT) itself has shied away recently from using the term ActiveX for its overall distributed computing strategy, shining its marketing spotlight instead on COM, its component object model.

inActiveX Most readers, 72 percent, forebode a gloomy, at best, future for ActiveX, citing shoddy security and the technology's dependency on Windows. "Too slow" and "too complex" were other shortcomings on ActiveX's resume, respondents said.

B.K. DeLong, director of the National Association of Webmasters' New England chapter, didn't think ActiveX has much of a future at all. "I see a lot of Web pages in the course of one day and I have not seen any ActiveX components since it was released in 1996," he said. Readers trash ActiveX "As a result of poor marketing and lack of attention to security problems, it has sunk out of the picture."

Andre Ferrer was one of many respondents who lamented being limited to Windows; he also was one of a handful who not only nixed ActiveX's future but maintained that the technology has been doomed from the start.

"How typical of Microsoft...to completely miss the point of Java--platform independence. Like other copycat efforts, this one fails. Not only did the public give ActiveX a lukewarm reception, but the serious security issues pretty much made the technology DOA [dead on arrival]."

The sliver of supporters, 28 percent, who see ActiveX surviving attributed their optimism in large part to Microsoft's success as a marketing mogul. As long as the software giant pumps money and energy into it, ActiveX will be around, believers said.

Advantages of ActiveX, proclaimed by a scant few respondents, included having to download the technology only once instead of every time the component is needed, as in the case of Java; that ActiveX's underlying model, COM, is easier to understand; and simply that old habits die hard.

"ActiveX has a future because COM is easy to understand and spans multiple languages," Eric Rehm said.

While ActiveX may not be best suited for commercial Web chores, it is still a good tool for intranets, one respondent opined.

"Java can do this also, but it's much harder a language and the current run time environments do not perform well enough. VB/C++/ActiveX components do not suffer from this problem," Erik Ohrnberger noted.

For more reader comments, see the next page. Following is a sample of reader responses to the NEWS.COM Poll.

Doomed from day one
"There are many of us giving heartfelt 'I told you so; replies to this story. ActiveX was never a viable option to internet web developers -- but even in the controlled environment of the intranet, ActiveX missed the point."
--Mike Kirby

"Technically, as a professional developer, I prefer JavaBeans. You can spend days on an ActiveX components to make it work, with JavaBeans, it simply works."
--Olivier Latignies

"Being CPU dependent is a big NO-NO for a proper web tool. Also, the security issues should scare most serious developers off - Java may be buggy in places right now, but the design is far ahead."
--Jonas Petersson

"ActiveX offers no compelling advantages over other object models, and is in fact inferior in many respects to existing models. Given a free choice, I think most developers would target those other models."
--Marten Payne

"ActiveX has no place in Web site development. Apart from security concerns (which is reason enough), I want tools / agents that are not platform dependent OR proprietary. As long as the Net is in its infancy and developing into who-knows-what, the last thing we need is somebody doing something that will somehow limit, prevent, or unduly influence that development."
--Richard Hussey

"The whole point of component software is to make software more flexible, and ultimately cost the consumer less money, thus making less money for developers. so its easy to why OpenDoc and ActiveX never caught on with developers, and in COM's case, probably won't catch on."
--Richard Hayes

"ActiveX was seen by many of my peers as another attempt at Microsoft to bring in more proprietary mechanisms into an open environment. As far as component technology it is a rehash of a previously failed product, which compares poorly to CORBA. I don't mean to sound like a huge anti-Microsoft nut (I have been developing software in DOS/Windows since 1988) but more than a few people see it as a mechanism of a company that can't compete in an open environment."
--Nishan Wijeyegoonewardene

"Active X is dead on the Web, and I don't miss it one bit."
--Brad Barclay

"For the Internet ActiveX controls are a bad idea, the technology is great but the users are already paranoid. Very few fire walls trust scripts and Java applets - I don't know of any that are configured to let through ActiveX controls. This is a security and platform issue, an issue with this deployment area of this technology--not of the technology as a whole."
-- Joseph Wood

"Dynamic HTML and Java are more attractive to developers because they're cross-platform and designed to serve users' and developers' needs, not Microsoft's."
--Chris Adamson

"ActiveX will have a limited future. It has to have some future, because dumping it would be tantamount to admitting a mistake, which Microsoft does not do. But the future will be limited because ActiveX serves a limited purpose, and as a brand name it suffers from a chronic identity crisis."
--Chris Akeley

"Java is the future not ActiveX"
--Ryan Jiang

"Too complex. too bloated. too slow. it dies."
--Stan Krute

ActiveX has its privileges
"I was sold on the technology when I saw the Microsoft Investor site's Portfolio Manager. This is a custom ActiveX control embedded in a Web page that is just like a "real" application. Amazing!"
--Erik Oehm

"ActiveX can give a developer full access to the users environment. I know people are scared of security issues, but I believe you shouldn't download something from someone you don't trust or know has a good reputation. I also feel as Active Server Pages become more popular that people will have custom applications on the server side that are ActiveX helping the ASP become more user friendly."
--Eric Renken

"ActiveX has a future because the underlying COM programming model is easy to understand and spans multiple languages."
--Eric Rehm

"I think ActiveX has a future. I am writing an industrial control application, with individual machines running under Windows NT as their control system, linked back to a central server via an Ethernet link. With ActiveX components, we can easily build for our customers a complete data logging system using nothing more than VB on the server side, and quickly extend and expand on this. Nothing else, that I have seen anyway, offers the extensibility that ActiveX offers."
--Neil O'Rourke

"I think there would still be some developers developing ActiveX controls. For the same reason as there are still people developing for MFC -- they are used to it."
--Archimedes Trajano

"As long as Microsoft will continue to pump money into a technology or product, that technology or product will probably last. I definitely think that if Microsoft completely drops ActiveX, developers will move on to other technologies."
--Rich Weber

"Developers will stick with ActiveX for the simple reason that it's based on the COM specification and COM is being ported to or licensed by just about every operating system (Macintosh, flavors of UNIX) and several key industry companies (Iona, SAP, Baan...)."
--Matt Wilson

"Although much maligned, ActiveX technology gives developers a lot of flexibility in Intranet / Private Internet applications. It's use in the public Internet arena will taper as newer technologies emerge."
--Chris Norman