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Object linking and embedding is a technology that was developed by Microsoft® with the intention of making user-created documents and systems more modular. In essence, it created a series of functions and methods for using small subprograms inside a larger program in order to allow functions the large program wouldn’t ordinarily have. For instance, with object linking and embedding, it became significantly easier to create a spreadsheet-like table within a standard text document.
Without object linking and embedding, many of the common drag-and-drop features in modern programs would not be possible. Previously, many programs were unable to embed information outside of the main program. For instance, a word processor would only allow text and text-based effects. This meant there were no embedded pictures, charts or graphs in a common document.
In order to help with this, some program suites allowed the sharing of information between the individual components. This shared information was difficult to manage due to incompatibilities in the programs. For instance, it was common that embedding information could not be modified. To change the information, the user needed to re-import the new version from the other program. In addition, the programs would usually only share information with other programs in the suite and nothing else.
The basic idea of object linking and embedding is making computer use easier. With this technology, it was possible to create programs that contained dissimilar secondary programs. These secondary systems would allow users to access functions beyond the scope of the main program. In many ways, it was like creating a suite of programs that functioned as one.
In addition, forming the secondary programs, object linking and embedding allowed other compatible programs to work together more easily. If a graphics program and a word processor both had object linking and embedding enabled, the common code would allow the graphic to be directly imported into the document without conversion.
The original use for object linking and embedding was almost entirely user-created documents. Since those early days, this technology has branched out into web-based systems. Generally, only Internet Explorer® uses strict object linking and embedding technology, but nearly every web browser contains some sort of embedding capabilities.
When this technology debuted, it was in direct competition with the now defunct OpenDoc system. While several functions of OpenDoc worked with object linking and embedding, many did not. Even though Microsoft® assured people that the two formats were compatible, that never really happened. As Microsoft® used their technology exclusively in the Windows® operating system, OpenDoc was unable to compete and died out.