Active Desktop

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Active Desktop
A component of Microsoft Windows
Included with Windows 95 or NT 4.0 with Internet Explorer 4.0, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003
Replaced by Windows Sidebar and Windows Desktop Gadgets

Active Desktop was a feature of Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0's optional Windows Desktop Update that allows the user to add HTML content to the desktop, along with some other features. This function was intended to be installed on the then-current Windows 95 operating system. It was also included in Windows 98 and later Windows operating systems until Windows Vista, where the feature was discontinued. This corresponded to version Internet Explorer 4.0 to 6.x, but not Internet Explorer 7.

Users can add HTML both in place of the regular wallpaper and as independent resizable desktop items. Items available on-line can be regularly updated and synchronized so users can stay updated without visiting the website in their browser.

Active Desktop works much like desktop widget technology in that it allows users to place customized information on their desktop.


The introduction of the Active Desktop marked Microsoft's attempt to capitalize on the short-lived push technology trend led by PointCast.[1] Active Desktop placed a number of "channels" on the user's computer desktop that provided continually-updated information, such as news headlines and stock quotes, without requiring the user to open a Web browser.

Active Desktop debuted during the 1997 release of Internet Explorer 4.0 for Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0, as a feature of the optional Windows Desktop Update offered to users during the upgrade install. While the Windows Desktop Update is commonly referred to (improperly) as Active Desktop itself, it is actually an entire Windows shell upgrade from v4.0 to v4.71, or v4.72, with numerous changes to the Windows interface, resulting in an appearance and functionality level nearly indistinguishable from the then yet-to-be-released Windows 98. Features include the option to allow uppercase filenames (the old v4.0 desktop would forcibly display uppercase filenames in title case), configurable one-click hot-tracking file selection, customizable per-folder HTML display settings, QuickLaunch mini-buttons on the Taskbar next to the Start button, upgraded Start Menu allowing drag and drop item reordering and allowing right-click context menus for item renaming, etc. With the update, Windows Explorer now features an Address bar in which Internet addresses can be entered and seamlessly browsed.

Active Desktop was largely considered to be a failure, with one of the main problems being its high use of system resources and reduction in system stability.

Later usage[edit]

Windows Vista replaced the Active Desktop with Windows Sidebar (called Windows Desktop Gadgets in Windows 7), which also allows components to be added to the desktop, but it was also discontinued due to security issues; Windows 8 replaced it with live tiles in the Start screen. Windows Server 2003 R2 32-bit is the most recent Microsoft operating system to support Active Desktop. It appears that the 64-bit version of Windows XP no longer supports Active Desktop. However, it still provides the option to display Web pages and channels built with Microsoft's Channel Definition Format (CDF) on the desktop.

The HTML displaying capabilities are now mainly used for creating original wallpapers and adding search boxes to the desktop. For example, a user could copy the following code to display Wikipedia's search-box on the desktop:

      value="" />
      value="Go" />

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kelly, Kevin; Gary Wolf (March 1997). "Push!". Wired 5 (03). Retrieved 2014-09-13. 

External links[edit]