ActiveX vs DirectX

In a previous article, we discussed about the comparisons between Excel ActiveX and Form Controls. However, some people seem to be wondering whether ActiveX and DirectX are similar. Seeing the names, they indeed look similar. Now to enhance your suspicion further, both ActiveX and DirectX are Microsoft-based technologies. They both only run on Windows, and both are widely used by programmers to bring functionality to users more easily. Howsoever, those are the only similarities of the two. ActiveX and DirectX are two very different things. See the differences below if you are still not sure about ActiveX and DirectX.

What is ActiveX?
To put it simply, ActiveX is a Microsoft technology, a software framework that allows programmers to write code that creates functionality. For example, just like what we explained in a previous article mentioned above, ActiveX is often used to create controls in an Excel form. You can also use ActiveX to package a code as a self-contained unit that can be reused in various applications, including in web pages. But particularly, ActiveX enables Internet Explorer to provide extended functionality that is normally beyond the capability of a browser. However, ActiveX only works with programs and applications that run on Microsoft Windows, and Internet Explorer is pretty much the only browser that supports ActiveX.

The advanced capability that ActiveX brings to Internet Explorer includes the ability to perform various computer operations and write into the hard drive. Most browser technologies, such as Java applets and Flash, have restrictions that prevent them from accessing computer operations and the hard drive, thus preventing the spreading of malware. On the other hand, ActiveX does not have such restrictions, and thus can be used maliciously for malware. A malicious ActiveX object may silently install viruses, trojans, and spyware into your computer. Because of that, ActiveX is usually set to be disabled by default.

What is DirectX?
DirectX is a Microsoft technology that can be implemented on desktop applications (not web-based applications that run in a browser) to enable advanced graphics and multimedia, such as 2D and 3D images and sounds. It is essentially a collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) that handle multimedia tasks. You may have noticed that some games and multimedia applications require you to install DirectX. You see, different users may use different graphic cards which require different programming – but with DirectX, the programmers will not have to write different codes for different video cards. Most video cards nowadays are compatible with DirectX.

Of course, DirectX is not the only thing in the market. DirectX is popular in games that run only on Windows and Xbox. However, it is a Microsoft-based technology, so other operating systems usually don’t support it. Many CAD programs that need to run on Windows, Linux, and macOS use OpenGL instead. But, in general, the specifications of DirectX and OpenGL are actually similar, as they both need to maintain compatibility.

- A software framework for enhancing functionality and flexibility- A collection of APIs that handle multimedia tasks
- Used for Excel form objects and for Internet Explorer- Used for advanced graphics and multimedia content
- Usually set to be disabled by default due to the vulnerability to malware- Required to run some games and multimedia applications

Even though ActiveX and DirectX seem to have similar names and are both Microsoft-based technologies that run only on Windows, they are two very different things. ActiveX is a software framework for enhancing functionality and flexibility, used mostly for Excel form objects and for Internet Explorer. Meanwhile, DirectX is a collection of APIs that handle multimedia tasks to enable advanced graphics and multimedia content.

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