Microsoft Dropping ActiveX And VBScript In Edge
Friday, 08 May 2015

Edge is Microsoft's new browser and it is an attempt to break with the past that Microsoft built for itself and for us. The list of technologies that are being dropped is only now being made clear.


Microsoft has always used its browser to try and make Windows more attractive. For example, if you want to code web pages in Basic you could, but the result would only work in IE because it was the only browser the supported VBScript. If you wanted to use your knowledge of COM or Visual Basic to create ActiveX browser extensions you could, but again it only worked with IE. By extending the web beyond existing standards, Microsoft pushed the envelope and isolated its platform from attack by other browsers. 

Today, however, Microsoft has little to gain from supporting the old technologies. It gave up on VBScript at the same time that it dropped Visual Basic 6, but it has had to keep it all working because IE supported it. ActiveX is also not relevant to Microsoft since the early days of .NET made it obsolete.  

Since then each version of IE has had to support not only the new standards, but all of the idiosyncratic Microsoft-specific technologies and the quirks modes of all of the early versions of IE. So the idea of making a fresh start with Edge (previously codenamed Spartan) must seem like a very good idea to Microsoft. It also has to make good sense for the future, because all of the strange modes and technologies that IE11 has to support are not supported by any other browser. 


This all sounds very reasonable, but what might surprise you is what the cost of supporting all of the old tech actually is. Microsoft claims to have removed 220,000 lines of code, 6 document modes and 300+ APIs. This is a lot of complexity to get rid of in one go. On the downside that is so much complexity that there might just be some unintended consequences. It also doesn't look quite as impressive when you know that they added 300,000 lines of code to add 49 major new features and fixes... 

The big technologies that have been removed from Edge are ActiveX and  VBScript. If you are using either then it is time to either re-engineer the code or make sure you stay with IE. In many cases staying with IE is likely to be the only option. For example, many IP cameras use ActiveX to display live video and the only alternative they provide is generally a Java applet - which is another doomed technology.

A related, but much less used COM technology, Browser Helper Objects (BHOs) is also being removed and this will mean that IE Toolbars don't work on Edge. 

This means no plugins - no Silverlight, no Java and no toolbars. However, Flash and PDF have built-in support. 

I doubt if very many will find the loss of VBScript in the web page a problem, but it might well be a good indication that its lifespan in the wider systems context is threatened. 

Other technologies that are going include Microsoft's particular approach to events - attach/remove with bubbling, conditional comments are out, so is Vector Markup Language (VML) and DirectX Filters and Transitions.

Of course, all quirks mode layout features have been removed. Now there is only a single HTML 5 document standard. Also gone are all of the MS prefixed APIs that have now been replaced by standards. However, Edge will still support the vendor prefixes like webkit-border-radius that are in common use. The fact that some vendor prefixes have become standards in their own right is proof that that they are a bad idea and the Edge team is planning to use feature flags set by the user as an alternative.

Microsoft does seem to be pushing forward and much of the code that has been removed has been replaced by code that implements new features. In particular, the Chakra JavaScript engine now has experimental support for asm.js, which makes it about 50% faster than IE11. 

All this is making Edge look very much like a standards-supporting browser. The question is, when will Microsoft decide that it needs something to make it stand out from the crowd?

Let us hope it doesn't.




Paul Allen's Living Computer Museum Going, Going, Gone

The Seattle-based Living Computer Museum, founded in 2012 by Paul Allen to preserve vintage and heritage computers for posterity has closed and its collection will be sold at auction by Christies in S [ ... ]

Perl v5.40.0 Shows That It Is Too Resilient To Die

Having faced doubt, debate and insecurity, Perl is still going after all those years, alive, kicking and making releases. Business as usual.

More News


kotlin book



or email your comment to:





Last Updated ( Friday, 08 May 2015 )