Applications that use OLE manage compound documents— that is, documents made up of data from a variety of different applications. OLE provides services that make it easy for applications to call on other applications for data editing. For example, a word processor that uses OLE could embed a graph from a spreadsheet. The user could start the spreadsheet automatically from within the word processor by choosing the embedded chart for editing. OLE takes care of starting the spreadsheet and presenting the graph for editing. When the user quit the spreadsheet, the graph would be updated in the original word processor document. The spreadsheet appears to be an extension of the word processor.
The foundation of OLE is the Component Object Model (COM). A software component that uses COM can communicate with a wide variety of other components, even those that have not yet been written. The components interact as objects and clients. Distributed COM extends the COM programming model so that it works across a network.
OLE supports compound documents and enables an application to include embedded or linked data that, when chosen, automatically starts another application for data editing. This enables the application to be extended by any other application that uses OLE. COM objects provide access to an object's data through one or more sets of related functions, known as interfaces. For more information, see COM and ActiveX Object Services.