Every once in a while, you have to break from the day-to-day routine and have some fun with your Web pages. NCompass Labs has a set of ActiveX controls, CaptiveX 2.0, that let you have fun with your Web pages without a lot of effort. CaptiveX comes with six controls (Cube, PowerLabels, MessageMorph, LightBoard, BillBoard, and PowerPanels) that let you create special effects on your Web site. But before I jump in and explain what CaptiveX can do for you, you need to know that these controls aren't for everyone. If your Web pages must be the same for every available Web browser, these tools probably aren't for you. However, if you're designing pages for a company intranet where you can dictate which Web browser is on your users' desktops, you'll want to take a closer look at the CaptiveX 2.0 controls. To make Web page design with these controls fun and easy, I used Internet Explorer (IE) 3.x because it's the only browser that supports ActiveX controls right out of the box.
In CaptiveX 2.0, NCompass Labs provides the base set of instructions (i.e., the controls); you determine what variables the CaptiveX controls use and how they use them. To install the controls, run setup.exe and tell the installation program where you want to install the files. NCompass Labs requires a Company Key and Key Code for the installation to work and for your controls to work on your Web page. To make your life easy, install the CaptiveX controls on the machine where you design your Web pages. CaptiveX will automatically generate the Company Key and Key Code on that machine and add them to any ActiveX controls you create. (You can make the CaptiveX controls work from other machines, but remember that we're making Web page design easy this month.)
The CaptiveX controls installer places several .cab files in a newly created \redist directory on your workstation. These files let users who are browsing your Web site install the controls that you create. You need to move these .cab files to a directory on your Web server that you can point to when a user attempts to install your controls. For example, I created a \controls directory, moved the .cab files into this directory, and created a virtual map to this directory on my Web server so that the user's browser knows where to find the files.
All you need to have to use the CaptiveX controls is Microsoft's ActiveX Control Pad (http://www.microsoft.com/workshop/author/cpad), which you see in Screen 1, or any other HTML authoring tool that supports ActiveX controls, such as SoftQuad's HoTMetaL Pro 3.0 (http://www.softquad.com). Control Pad was the easiest authoring tool to use while I was making my pages. You simply open Control Pad, right-click your cursor between the HTML <BODY></BODY> tags, and select Insert ActiveX Control. Control Pad then displays a list of ActiveX controls. Scroll down until you see the NCompass Labs items and select one. When the Edit ActiveX Control and Properties windows open, right-click in the Edit ActiveX Control window and select Properties. You'll see an easy-to-use GUI to edit the control.
I tried the Cube control first. This control creates a 3D spinning cube that lets you populate the six sides with images. You can spin the cube by left-clicking and dragging the mouse, and you can zoom in and out by right-clicking the cube, depending on the individual browser settings. I was able to quickly create this control using Control Pad. To test this control, I created a family photo cube using pictures from my son's Web page (would you expect any less from parents who are both Web masters?). You can view the cube I created at http://www.winntmag.com/issues/jun97/controlx/photocube.html. I provided the names of the six images I wanted to display and specified how fast I wanted the cube to spin. All the CaptiveX controls that use images support three image file formats: JPEG, GIF, and PNG. Although the file sizes of the family photos are big and the image dimensions vary, CaptiveX easily and automatically pieced the images together into a cube.
Next, I tried PowerLabels. This control makes text spin and rush toward the viewer from different directions (see my example at http://www.winntmag.com/issues/jun97/controlx/powerlabels.html). You can put an image in the background and put a texture image on the text. To populate the different text fields you want in the control, you run a script on the HTML page. Control Pad defaults to using Visual Basic (VB) Script. As you see in Screen 1, the variables are straightforward. You can select the font type, the direction the text travels, and how many times the text rotates.
The MessageMorph control is wild. As its name implies, MessageMorph lets you morph from one message to another. This control has room for lots of variables. You can select where and how your text will appear. After each text message, you can display a line pattern or scattered dot pattern, and the control uses these patterns to create your next text message. Trust me when I say that you have to see this control to understand it. You can view my sample MessageMorph control at http://www.winntmag.com/issues/jun97/controlx/messagemorph.html.
The LightBoard control lets you put text on a board of lights much like what you see in Times Square. Of all the CaptiveX controls, this one does the least for me. It's easy to set up and to create different effects, but the effects don't stand out and the lettering that this control displays can be difficult to read. But if you need a light board on your Web site, you won't find an easier way to achieve this effect. You can check out my sample LightBoard control at http://www.winntmag.com/issues/jun97/controlx/lightboard.html.
I had a lot of fun with the BillBoard control. This control lets you cycle through images and apply different effects to make the transition from one image to the next. For example, you can have an image dissolve into another image and then replace that image piece by piece with a third image. In addition to numerous other applications, you can easily use this control with rotating ad banners. I can't use the CaptiveX BillBoard control on our Web site because I need to record when a user views an image. However, Web designers who sell spots on one page and record impressions with a page counter might find this control useful. Again, this control has a lot of neat functionality, and it was easy to set up. You can view my sample BillBoard control at http://www.winntmag.com/issues/jun97/controlx/billboard.html.
By far the coolest CaptiveX control is the PowerPanels. Like the other controls, it lets you incorporate several images and select various effects to transition from one image to another. The transition effects are really slick. The feature that sets this control apart from the others is the ability to make each image clickable to another URL. Screen 2 shows the transition from one image to another. You can view my sample PowerPanels control at http://www.winntmag.com/issues/jun97/controlx/powerpanel.html.
The User's Perspective
After you create an ActiveX control, you'll want to make sure your users can install it properly. If users have never installed your control, the Web browser will present the users with a VeriSign authentication certificate for the control, as you see in Screen 3, and ask whether they want to install and run the control. When the users click Yes, the Web server downloads the control to the users' systems so that they can see your ActiveX page.
If you want to add some ActiveX controls to your Web pages, internally or externally, take a look at NCompass Labs' CaptiveX 2.0 controls. Remember that if your users operate a variety of Web browsers, you might be creating an unwanted headache. However, if you can control your users' browsers, you'll have some fun. I did.