Google Brings Chrome To Internet Explorer

On September 24th, Google released Google Chrome Frame, a new plug-in that contains its Chrome browser in a format compatible with Internet Explorer.  A blog post promoting the release promises that Chrome Frame will work with versions 6, 7, and 8 of Explorer.  One analyst surmises the move is an indication of Google’s admission that wooing users from IE is a steeper mountain than they planned to climb.

The speed of IE’s JavaScript is infamously low.  Chrome Frame will boost that speed considerably.  More than that, the plug-in will address significant concerns of Web designers and developers.  More and more websites and online applications use Internet standards that IE can’t handle.  The most obvious of these is HTML 5, which will now be usable thanks to Chrome Frame.

Amit Joshi, Alex Russell, and Mike Smith, two Chrome engineers and one product manager all employed by Google, address the new product’s benefits in Google’s Chromium blog.  They admit the challenges of the new technologies not supported by IE, but admit that “Developers can’t afford to ignore IE… so they end up spending lots of time implementing work-arounds or limiting the functionality of their apps.”

Explorer’s universality supports their claim.  67% of all browsers used in August were Internet Explorer, according to a study my Net Applications, a metrics firm.  Mozilla accounted for 23% of browsers using Firefox.  Chrome spoke for only 3% of the browser market.

Developers wishing to switch to Chrome Frame can do so with a basic HTML tag on their sites, or with simple tweaks to their HTML code.  It’s more difficult for users to switch, as it means a manual installation.

The Chromium blog of Joshi, Russell, and Smith assure their belief that “Google Chrome Frame makes life easier” for users and Web developers alike.  Despite their claim, some are guessing that Chrome Frame might be a Google tactic to intrude on systems that solely use IE.

Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish has her own opinion.  Seeing the Chrome Frame release as a surprising path for Google, considering their previous efforts to offer a stand-alone alternative to Internet Explorer, McLeish sees the new plug-in as a case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

In her words, “Google’s realizing that the potential to get people to move off IE is harder than it thought.”  Chrome Frame might benefit developers, and even tempt users, but she sees it as Chrome’s concession to the stiff competition posed by Explorer.  “What’s the motivation for people to migrate to Chrome,” she asks, “when (using Chrome Frame) they can get some of its benefits within IE?”

Chrome Frame, in McLeish’s opinion, won’t lead to very many users switching away from IE.  The push for people to migrate to Chrome has been diluted by the release of the plug-in, which casts Google’s intentions with the release into doubt.

As for Google itself, there is no such uncertainty of Chrome Frame’s value.  In the opinions of Google Wave team manager Lars Rasmussen and Wave client lead technician Adam Schuck, the plug-in is nothing short of a gift from Heaven.

In the Wave developer blog, Rasmussen and Schuck explain the move.  Internet Explorer was clearly behind the pack when it came to the rendering speed of JavaScript, as well as the offline storage of Web application tasks.  Their team devoted long and arduous hours to the single task of optimizing Google Wave’s functioning inside IE.  Though they could have kept up in that pursuit, they opted for Chrome Frame instead, seeing that its use “lets us invest all that engineering time in more features for our users, without leaving Internet Explorer users behind.”

In May, Google rolled out Google Wave, a tool for collaborative communication.  Such Internet must-haves as email, document sharing, and instant messaging are all included in its structure.  Wave is built with HTML 5, using the Google Web toolkit, making it unsupportable by Internet Explorer.  With Chrome Frame, IE and Wave are now compatible.

The “weak link” in the world of Chrome Frame hijacking is Internet Explorer 6.  Website designers and operators have launched a “Kill IE6” campaign this year, and the eight year old browser has even been estranged by its own parent company.  “Friends don’t let friends use IE6,” says Microsoft general manager Amy Bazdukas, to urge IE users to move on to IE7 or IE8.

The cause of the slow transition away from IE6 was the enterprise itself.  In an interview, Bazdukas revealed IT administrators’ fear of updating the browsers, against the risk of disrupting the systems and applications created with an inherent IE6 workaround.

Forrester’s McLeish admits that Chrome Frame could be good news for IT companies, in that it provides a browser alternative without all the issues surrounding migration and support.  However, she remains skeptical.

The unresolved issue, she asserts, is security.  A symptom of this concern is that companies using Chrome Frame will need to monitor and install updates for not just Explorer, but the plug-in as well.

With all of her concerns assembled, it is McLeish’s opinion that the move smacks of passivity.  “Google’s going to have to do more to usurp Microsoft,” she cautions at the conclusion of her remarks.

The Chrome Frame plug-in, available by download from Google’s site, requires Internet Explorer 6, 7, or 8, on Windows XP or Windows Vista.

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