Do You Need ActiveX?

by Tim Mammadov

ActiveX controls refer to small programs with instructions and functions that can be used by a variety of different applications. ActiveX was brought in by Microsoft in 1996 and was designed for Windows operating systems only. Microsoft Office and Windows Media Player, for example, use ActiveX in their codes. However, most computer users associate ActiveX with web pop-ups and malware.

The Basics

ActiveX controls are just programs that can be accessed by different applications without a need to write the same code more than once. The same program is reused over and over. The applications that use ActiveX are designed with this interactivity in mind.

How It Works

Microsoft Office uses an ActiveX control for the spellchecker function in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. However, since this is an ActiveX control, the same program runs the same spellchecker in Outlook Express. This way the spellchecker program is written only once, which saves time and increases efficiency.

ActiveX in the Internet

ActiveX controls are actively used by websites with Flash animation and PDF files on their web pages. Internet Explorer does not have the inherent functionality to view these pages, but is capable of accepting an ActiveX control that does. This is where the website would prompt you for an ActiveX download. Once you finish downloading, the ActiveX control will install itself and you will be able to view the website.


ActiveX is often associated with spyware infection. Spyware is software that is installed from the web without your knowledge or consent. One of the ways this can be done is through a web download. And since ActiveX is often downloaded, it can become a disguise for a spyware. This sort of computer parasite only pretends to be an ActiveX control, prompting your acceptance of the download. Once you click OK, however, spyware will infect your computer.

Do You Need ActiveX?

ActiveX compatibility is built into all of the software applications that use them, along with the ActiveX controls themselves. And, you do need to download ActiveX controls to view some websites. However, ActiveX was designed to work with Internet Explorer browsers, so you could switch to another browser for more safety, eliminating any need for the downloads.

About the Author

Writing out of Los Angeles, Tim Mammadov has been a professional writer since 2010. The majority of his articles are related to computer troubleshooting and spyware protection. Mammadov graduated from the University of Maryland, majoring in finance.