If the Internet community thought it was going to get away with ignoring ActiveX, it didn't bank on the enormous effort Microsoft would put behind its latest technology. And it certainly didn't reckon on the incredible response it is getting from the developer community.
Paul Maritz, Bill Gates' second in command, took on the responsibility of spreading the X word to an assembled gathering of 3,500 people crammed into a converted basketball arena at the Microsoft Site Builder Conference in San Jose last week. The South African native took to the temporary stage in true Microsoft fashion and pounced on a defenceless Netscape as ActiveX was sprung into action - compliments of "the very best in browsing technology," IE3.0.
In his keynote speech, Maritz introduced the latest update to the ActiveX paradigm which focuses on linking the front-end of IE3.0 (and the forthcoming IE4.0) with the new scripting capabilities of the Active Server. The goal is simple: provide as rich a multimedia environment as possible, while retaining a tight rein on managing data at the back end.
Maritz showed off what he termed Dynamic HTML, allowing charts and tables to be modified on-the-fly without going to the server to update. As an example, a GIF of an airplane was shown to have a seat - marked in red to denote a carnivorous occupant - turn to green when the food preference was changed to vegetarian in another part of the document. Without Dynamic HTML, changing an image in an HTML environment so that it correlates with a constantly changing data element means a lot of work. The Dynamic solution promises not only to reduce the work for an administrator, but also reduce the hits on a server - thus reducing traffic.
Active Server forms part of Microsoft's Active Platform strategy, a comprehensive development platform which enables developers to work with the expanding functionality of HTML. That noted, it is clear that Microsoft, despite protestations to the contrary, wants to win developers from the Java community and hook them into its own plans.
Microsoft is also intent on playing a considerable part in re-designing Web sites all over the world with a ream of tools aimed at non-designers who litter our screens with awful attempts at aesthetic prowess. Brad Silverburg, VP of Internet platforms and tools, told journalists last year that designers needed to "be encouraged to use professional tools" to build more appealing sites. No doubt he had a word with the multimedia group and asked them to come up with some easy-to-use tools, which they've completed ... beautifully.
There's the Microsoft GIF animator, which is similar to the GIF Construction Set from Alchemy Mindworks, an image manipulation tool called Image Composer, and last but not least the incredibly useful Microsoft Music Producer.
Music Producer will allow anyone to create and edit "original music in minutes", according to the Microsoft camp. What it doesn't tell you is, if it proves popular, we will all be bombarded with tedious midi-symphonies from all and sundry who are bound to adopt this new tool as THE cool new toy.
It looks as though the first steps in Internet design and development are well under way. We now have two efficient programming languages to choose from, sufficient funds being thrown at a burgeoning industry and some of the best minds in technology focusing hard on making the Net a more pleasant and useful place to be.
For Microsoft though, the message is clear - you simply don't need to use anything that doesn't have the blue M insignia. How do we know this?
Well, firstly Microsoft doesn't like it when people use brands other than its own - this was confirmed at the conference, when one was given no option but to write this article using the awful MS Natural Keyboard.
Asked why Microsoft wasn't giving us a choice a spokesman said: "Hey, Microsoft supplies the equipment. It calls the shots."
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