ActiveX is a set of technologies from Microsoft that enables interactive content for the World Wide Web. Before ActiveX, Web content was static, 2-dimensional text and graphics. With ActiveX, Web sites come alive using multimedia effects, interactive objects, and sophisticated applications that create a user experience comparable to that of high-quality CD-ROM titles. ActiveX provides the glue that ties together a wide assortment of technology building blocks to enable these "active" Web sites.
A control using ActiveX technologies. An ActiveX control can be automatically downloaded and executed by a Web browser. ActiveX is not a programming language, but rather a set of rules for how applications should share information. Programmers can develop ActiveX controls in a variety of languages, including C, C++, Visual Basic, and Java.
An ActiveX control is similar to a Java applet. Unlike Java applets, however, ActiveX controls have full access to the Windows operating system. This gives them much more power than Java applets, but with this power comes a certain risk that the applet may damage software or data on your machine. To control this risk, Microsoft developed a registration system so that browsers can identify and authenticate an ActiveX control before downloading it. Another difference between Java applets and ActiveX controls is that Java applets can be written to run on all platforms, whereas ActiveX controls are currently limited to Windows environments. Related to ActiveX is a scripting language called VBScript that enables Web authors to embed interactive elements in HTML documents.