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The Windows Media ActiveX Control – Not Just for Internet Explorer Anymore

The maturing of Web standards has fueled a wave of innovation in browser technology. It's injecting life into a stagnated market, to the benefit of Web users everywhere and on every platform.

Powerful new browsers like Apple's Safari and the Gecko-based Netscape/Mozilla family are enticing users with their seductive features and blazing performance. For many users, after cruising the Web with a recent version of Mozilla, the geriatric Internet Explorer 6 feels like an oil-burning heap in the slow lane. Thankfully, the widespread adoption of standards by all the browsers has made it relatively simple matter to write Web sites that work seamlessly on any browser and operating system.

For streaming media developers, one gaping hole in this standards-based world was the lack of a browser plugin for Windows Media Player (WMP). The last WMP plugin Microsoft made was way back in version 6.4. After that, Microsoft stopped plugin support in favor of its own ActiveX control architecture, which is only supported by Internet Explorer on Windows. Developers looking to support all of the Web browsing population had the headache of coding for both the WMP 6.4 plugin and the newer and more powerful WMP7 and WMP9 ActiveX controls.

With WMP9, Microsoft supplied a way to turn the WMP ActiveX control into a Java applet that wraps around the WMP and loads seamlessly into the page. It's a workable solution for supporting old browsers like Netscape 4.x or 6.x. For newer browser versions, there's now a better way. The latest versions of the Netscape/Mozilla family now directly support the WMP ActiveX control. If you're using JavaScript to control the player, using callbacks, or doing plugin detection, there are a few simple things you need to know.

The Gecko ActiveX Component
Gecko is the open-source HTML rendering engine that powers the Mozilla and Firefox browsers, as well as Netscape 7.x. It's also embedded in many products that render HTML, such as Macromedia's HomeSite. For convenience, I'll refer to Mozilla in this article, but the techniques apply to any of these Gecko-based products.

ActiveX support in Mozilla is implemented via an add-in component. This component is included by default with Netscape 7.1. If you're using another version of Mozilla, there's an easy one-click XPI installer for it at the Mozilla ActiveX Plugin Page.

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