Finally Something Interesting, Google Chrome Frame

September 22nd, 2009 14 Comments

Google’s announcement of Chrome Frame for Internet Explorer today may not seem all that momentous. John sums it up what a lot of folks are probably thinking here:

Lipstick on a pig, that never gets old

What is Chrome Frame? According to the announcement, it’s an “open source plug-in that brings HTML5 and other open web technologies to Internet Explorer.”

Sounds like John is right at first, but let it sink in for a second. If you’re a web developer, how much time do you spend coding around the various functionality quirks and gaps in IE versions? Theses inconsistencies are why sites like Digg and YouTube have abandoned IE6.

This is reason why we stopped fixing non-critical IE6 bugs in Connect.

With Chrome Frame installed, an IE user (any version) gets the same experience as a Chrome user, meaning:

“. . . developers can now take advantage of the latest open web technologies, even in Internet Explorer. From a faster Javascript engine, to support for current web technologies like HTML5′s offline capabilities and <canvas>, to modern CSS/Layout handling, Google Chrome Frame enables these features within IE with no additional coding or testing for different browser versions.

I doubt it was intentional, but note the phrase “even in Internet Explorer” for a window into how web developers feel about it.

If installed on the client, Chrome Frame is triggered by a simple meta tag on the page. So, supporting it is easy for developers. Rich added the meta tag to Connect’s pages this afternoon, and we each tested Chrome Frame on IE6 in our VMs.

The results were pretty great. It works exactly as advertised. For Connect this meant, the CSS rendered correctly with rounded corners and even spacing, and the Javascript was very speedy. Connect uses a lot of JS, and from my rather unscientific tests, Chrome Frame looked to be at least three times faster.

Check out the short video on Chrome Frame for a full overview.

Beyond the gains for web developers and users, Chrome Frame is interesting for a couple reasons.

First, the approach is very smart. Studies of browser usage show that a large percentage of IE6 users must use it and cannot install a different browser. IT policies at their workplaces prevent upgrading IE and don’t afford users high enough privileges to install software on their machines.

This may be the biggest contributing factor to IE6′s ability to hold 15-25% (depending on who you ask) of browser market despite its advanced age of eight years old. If IE6 were a child, it would be in second grade. If IE6 were a dog, it would be a “senior” dog.

Modern browsers, even newer versions of IE, have been slow to take market share from IE6, so Google took a different approach with a browser plugin.

My Windows sys admin skills are pretty rusty, but I think installing an ActiveX browser control doesn’t require admin privileges. So, users that want modern browsing can have it with a plugin, even when they can’t install a new browser or upgrade IE.

It’s also interesting that Google would build a workaround to fill gaps in a competitor’s browser. Why would they do that?

Mashable alludes to the impending launch of Google Wave next week as the reason. Wave can’t be transformative if it sucks for IE users or about 65-70% (again, depending on who you ask) of the users out there.

So, Chrome Frame is a necessity for the success of Wave. I expect that Wave will require IE users to install Chrome Frame before using it for this very reason. Not many of the target users will understand that IE is crippling Wave’s functionality. Instead, they will right off Wave as being slow or buggy or whatever.

And first impressions matter, especially with something as shiny and new as Wave promises to be.

Anyway, your thoughts on all this? Find the comments.


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14 Responses to “Finally Something Interesting, Google Chrome Frame”

  1. jpiwowar Says:

    >My Windows sys admin skills are pretty rusty, but I think installing
    >an ActiveX browser control doesn’t require admin privileges.

    I'm similarly rusty, but I think it's possible to set a policy that configures IE a particular way that installation of browser plugins is forbidden. That'd be a pretty draconian shop, tho, which would probably forbid Google Wave on principle anyhow. ;-)

  2. Jake Says:

    Sounds about right. This approach makes sense for a lot of the people who can't install a modern browser. I'll bet it's higher than 80/20, or if it's not, you'd probably be able to get permission for Chrome Frame before you'd get permission to roll out a new browser.

    IT is funny.

  3. jason kelsey Says:

    I'm glad there getting married I like her she is really cool..

  4. jpiwowar Says:

    >My Windows sys admin skills are pretty rusty, but I think installing
    >an ActiveX browser control doesn’t require admin privileges.

    I'm similarly rusty, but I think it's possible to set a policy that configures IE a particular way that installation of browser plugins is forbidden. That'd be a pretty draconian shop, tho, which would probably forbid Google Wave on principle anyhow. ;-)

  5. Jake Says:

    Sounds about right. This approach makes sense for a lot of the people who can't install a modern browser. I'll bet it's higher than 80/20, or if it's not, you'd probably be able to get permission for Chrome Frame before you'd get permission to roll out a new browser.

    IT is funny.

  6. Jake Says:

    Maybe, but there's still an addressable market that uses IE6 out of inertia or fear that could benefit from a plugin, e.g. users who have been told not to upgrade b/c certain internal apps won't work.

    If the company sees value in Wave, IT can push Chrome Frame without taking the hit to push/support/train for a new browser.

    I guess we'll see once Wave is released.

  7. Jake Says:

    I think the target here is people who don't want to use IE6 but are required to do so and prevented from installing other browsers at work.

    I'm sure Google will provide some tracking metrics to show Chrome Frame's adoption.

    I wonder what user agent will be reported when Chrome Frame is active . . .

  8. Anna Langella Says:

    very nice idea. would be interested to hear how many downloads it gets. slightly strange to think someone would want to keep ie6, but be willing to install a plugin to avoid having to use ie6!

  9. John Flack Says:

    I'm with jpiwowar – if a shop is so locked up that you can't install any browser but IE6, it is very likely that you can't install a plug-in like Chrome Frame either. I've already read feedback from people who can't use MyOracleSupport because they aren't allowed to install Adobe Flash. So I suspect that Chrome Frame is not going to go anywhere.

  10. Jake Says:

    Maybe, but there's still an addressable market that uses IE6 out of inertia or fear that could benefit from a plugin, e.g. users who have been told not to upgrade b/c certain internal apps won't work.

    If the company sees value in Wave, IT can push Chrome Frame without taking the hit to push/support/train for a new browser.

    I guess we'll see once Wave is released.

  11. Jake Says:

    I think the target here is people who don't want to use IE6 but are required to do so and prevented from installing other browsers at work.

    I'm sure Google will provide some tracking metrics to show Chrome Frame's adoption.

    I wonder what user agent will be reported when Chrome Frame is active . . .

  12. Gary Says:

    But the web page needs a change. “For most web pages, all you have to do is add a single tag to your pages and detect whether your users have installed Google Chrome Frame.”
    Would be good for sites that have to keep IE (or IE6 specifically) for particular applications.

  13. Jake Says:

    I don't get your point. The whole point is to allow IE users to view sites as designed. The plugin only activates if it sees the meta tag. Otherwise, it's IE as usual.

  14. Jake Says:

    I don't get your point. The whole point is to allow IE users to view sites as designed. The plugin only activates if it sees the meta tag. Otherwise, it's IE as usual.

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