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.
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. "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."
"Technically, as a professional developer, I prefer JavaBeans. You can spend
days on an ActiveX components to make it work, with JavaBeans, it simply
"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."
"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."
"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
"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."
"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."
"Active X is dead on the Web, and I don't miss it one bit."
"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
"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."
"Java is the future not ActiveX"
"Too complex. too bloated. too slow. it dies."
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!"
"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
"ActiveX has a future because the underlying COM programming model is easy
to understand and spans multiple languages."
"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."
"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."
"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
"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...)."
"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."