Last week ESTsoft’s web portal ZUM launched a beta version of its “Swing Browser” for Windows, an internet browser that supports Microsoft’s ActiveX software while offering a similar interface and experience to Google’s popular Chrome browser. ESTsoft is well known for its ALTools applications which can be easily found installed on most PCs in Korea.
The new version of the browser is being marketed as one that fits Korea’s internet environment, this of course referring to its ability to use ActiveX controls that are still common-place on many websites in the country. Despite Chrome and Firefox continuing to gain popularity due to fast browsing speeds and useful widgets, many users have always had to rely on Internet Explorer for tasks such as internet shopping, checking bank balances or even just logging into some sites. According to StatCounter, Internet Explorer is still the top browser for 75% of Korean users, followed by 16% using Chrome.
“Korean users find it bothersome as the browser with the highest market share is behind in both the lastest technology and speed, but other faster browsers don’t support ActiveX. We’ve made a browser that is fast and convenient, and that also syncs with both PCs and mobiles.” said the ZUM developers’ blog. Swing Browser was originally launched for mobile devices last year and some users are disappointed as there appear to be no plans to bring the browser to Mac or Linux operating systems.
Besides this, it wasn’t hard to predict that the launch of a browser that supports ActiveX would draw criticism from those in the tech community as Korea attempts to standardize websites for use on all browsers. ActiveX was first launched in 1996 and the use of it is now discouraged by Microsoft itself, saying on its website, “Here’s a good rule to follow: If an ActiveX control is not essential to your computer activity, avoid installing it.”
ActiveX became a concrete part of Korea’s internet culture in 1999 when a law by the KFTC (Korean Financial Telecommunication and Clearings Institute) required sites which made online financial transactions require the use of ActiveX security controls. In 2010 the rule was finally dropped after smartphone users were unable to make transactions with their devices. Nevertheless, what should have been a mad dash to get rid of the exploitable plugins once and for all never happened, and having to install 2-3 ActiveX controls is still a reality on a large number of websites.
Web-based startups seem to be leading the way in terms of standardization, with most sites optimized for Chrome, Firefox and mobile browsers, something that government and corporations have been extremely slow to pick up. Nevertheless, conditions are improving and some banks now allow transactions within browsers using different security features. While the mobile sync feature and speed do make Swing Browser handy, one can only hope that the launch of such a browser won’t cause sites to hold on to ActiveX even longer.