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ActiveX is the Devil's Spawn

In my activities as a computer consultant in the San Antonio, Texas area over the last 20 years, I've been heard many times since Microsoft's introduction of ActiveX as an alternative to Java to say that "ActiveX is the Devil's spawn." What truth is there in this comparison?

ActiveX is technically described as a "virus transmission technology". Instead of operating in a secure Java environment designed, engineered and tested to ensure security (and provided by Sun MicroSystems free-of-charge), ActiveX "controls" (basically an Intel-architecture-only DLL) are downloaded and installed on your computer from anywhere on the Internet and with the click of a mouse are granted complete control -- with no limitations whatsoever -- on what they can do to your computer. No wonder there are so many viruses created for Microsoft systems. They created the tools for virus development as well as the $1 billion virus protection software market not to mention untold demand for skilled MCSE. Ever since losing the court case with Sun about use of Java technology brand name last year, MS wants everyone to stop using Java and switch to ActiveX not for security or technological reasons but rather because Microsoft makes a lot of money with ActiveX. By mutual consent and court decree, Microsoft will have no rights to use Java technology in any of its products 7 years hence.

Thus your skills as a Java developer are now under direct attack by the Microsoft marketing representatives that visit to outline technology trends to the IT managers at your organization at trade shows and industry advisors. If you look at Java as a strategically sound way to keep one leg in the Microsoft universe while using non-compatible technology in the server space, think again: Microsoft has changed their focus to capturing the entire computing infrastructure and providing training on a whole new generation of software development tools to meet its finanical goals. It doesn't matter that the last generation was an utter failure. The new technology is supported by many Microsoft fans. If your manager buys into the MS vision, they will soon be looking to replace you with someone with DotNet skills. Do you want to help this occur? If so, you may stop reading now.

If not, consider this: Netscape's early popularity was due in large part to their browser's plug-in capability. Popular examples of browser plugins include Adobe Acrobat, the Real Audio Media Player, Macromedia Flash and Shockwave and Apple QuickTime. Netscape Communications performed a great community service in documenting the Plug-In API and it was used to implement plug-in languages such as oberon, tcl/tk and java. Microsoft's version 2 Internet Explorer was only able to start gaining market share by implementing this Netscape API. Are you aware that Internet Explorer 5.5 removes the plug-in capability? You should know that plug-ins that work under MSIE 5.0 fail to work after upgrading to a dot release: 5.5!!!

Without the Plug-In API, Sun will not be able produce a JRE which operates seamlessly from within DotNet's version of the IE browser. They may be able to trick up some way to provide JRE support by employing ActiveX contols similar to the way Sun is already having to wrap JavaBeans. As Java developers, our job is to actively boycott MSIE now. I've always said it, but now we must make our pages detect the user's browser and redirect IE users to a web page to download and install a browser which supports Sun Java and the Netscape Plug-In API and not just limp along with good-enough cross-browser HTML support.

Why do I say this? Well, MSIE 5.5 provides just a foretaste of Microsoft's .NET which not only fails to support the Netscape API (breaking all your present plugins such as the TCL/TK plug-ins elsewhere on this site) -- it does not even contain Microsoft's proprietary (non-Java) Virtual Machine! DotNet most notable feature is that it will require Java programmers to re-engineer their applications to be compatible with Microsoft's new vision of enterprise computing. Isn't cross-platform compatibility the reason you chose Java development in the first place?

Go ahead avoid the rush: Don't wait to hate IE, switch your users now. They should be skilled in upgrading software periodically anyhow.

My take: If you are not terrorized by Osama bin Laden, consider Bill Gates. Microsoft is never the Answer. Microsoft is a question. No is the answer. Microsoft refuses to play on the basis of software quality. You can trust them to alter the playing field as they now plan to do to Java rather than to compete. Employing Open Source solutions wherever possible is the only sensible alternative.