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What is an Active Desktop?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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Active Desktop® is a major feature in some older versions of Microsoft Windows® and Internet Explorer®. This feature allowed certain types of hypertext markup language (HTML) to operate dynamically on the user’s desktop. Active Desktop® was available in some version of Windows 95®, Windows 98® and some versions of Windows XP®, as well as Internet Explorer® versions 4 through 6. This feature was disliked by many users, and therefore rarely used, but its existence was a major point in the Microsoft® antitrust lawsuit.

This program worked by creating a series of channels on the user’s desktop. Each of these channels was connected to a different HTML-based source. This allowed web-content, such as newsfeeds, weather information or stock prices, to appear on the user’s desktop whenever the computer was connected to the Internet.

Later versions of Active Desktop® expanded on the types of code allowed in the active programs. These programs were able to change the appearance of many desktop features, most notably the wallpaper and standard desktop icons. These additional features worked on a layer under the other desktop programs, allowing multiple programs to work stacked on top of one another.

Active Desktop® was generally disliked by most users. The information being exchanged used up a significant amount of the computer’s Internet connection. In addition, the constantly running apps each acted like a separate program, often bogging down the system. As a result, Active Desktop® was abandoned in the newer version of Windows® and Internet Explorer®.

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Later versions of Windows® have different programs that may seem similar to Active Desktop®, but are actually completely different. In Windows Vista®, the Windows Sidebar® allows active web content to display on the desktop. In this case, each app is integrated into a single program, cutting down the required memory and bandwidth usage. Windows 7® has a similar feature called Desktop Gadgets® that works in the same manner, but isn’t limited in space.

In the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft®, this program played a key role. One of the main points in the lawsuit was that Microsoft® used Internet Explorer® as a means to leverage Internet use and shift users to the Windows® operating system. By disallowing other operating systems from using Internet Explorer&reg, it was forcing people to choose.

Microsoft® cited that Internet Explorer® was an integrated part of the Windows® operating system. The company proved this with two main arguments. First, the code that the system uses to govern Internet traffic is built into the browser. Second, Active Desktop®, a key feature of the Windows® operating system, is built directly into Internet Explorer®.

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