Google, you clever bastards

September 23, 2009 4:47 PM

The more I look at Google Chrome Frame, the more I'm struck by how clever it is.

For those coming in late, Google Chrome Frame is a plugin for Internet Explorer that embeds the entire Chrome web rendering engine inside IE. Site authors can include a simple meta tag in their HTML that will tell the browser to use Chrome to render the page instead of IE.

(Let's ignore for a moment that when Microsoft introduced a meta tag that changed IE8s rendering mode, the web went apeshit.)

Ask any web developer and they'll tell you the biggest millstone around the neck of the web is Internet Explorer 6. Ask browser users, and they'll tell you the overwhelming reason why they can't upgrade to a more modern, standards-compliant browser is because their work won't let them. Ask IT departments why this is the case and they'll point to the six- to seven-figure costs of upgrading turn-of-the-century Intranets written to work in, and only in, Internet Explorer 6.

Google have provided a way for websites to opt out of IE6 (and even IE7) support without requiring enterprise-wide, Intranet-breaking browser upgrades, something Microsoft occasionally promised but never managed to deliver. In doing so, they've cheekily cut Microsoft out of the upgrade path of their own web browser.

Dear corporate IT departments. Your last tie to IE6 has just been neatly routed around. At my most conservative estimate you have twelve to eighteen months to either bite the bullet and adopt a real modern browser, or make Google Chrome Frame part of your default desktop image. Beyond that, I guarantee large chunks of the public web are going to stop working for you.


"Intranets written to work in, and only in, Internet Explorer 6."

Internet Explorer is such a misnomer.... shouldn't it be called 'Intranet Explorer'?

Internet Explorer should be called ex-explorer.

It used to be a running joke that people should just start up FireFox as an ActiveX control - it looks like Google's taking it to the next level.

Why not use IE for internal intranet usage and use other browser for viewing any other sites?

It's "Google has provided" not "Google have provided."

Joel: That mostly depends on which side of the Atlantic you’re writing it.

How is this supposed to change anything? Sites that run in IE6 only wont run in an embedded chrome either. It's like IE Tab for Firefox. How is this an option then? Am I missing something?

@John: You can opt-in to the Chrome Engine using a special meta-tag. Chck the manual of Chrom Frame :)

@leo Well, yes. But I still don't get how this would make a difference. At least not for existing sites. The main benefit would be for new applications being build crossbrowser and not directly to IE6. Granted, breaking that vicious circle makes the plugin useful.

But for existing sites, the Meta Tag switches the rendering engine to Chrome and that is when the problems start. If the site is built to run in IE6 primarily, it will likely break in Chrome (or any other standards compliant browser). Adding the Meta Tag will not fix any horrible code produced for IE6.

In addition, adding the Meta Tag to all sites or applications in a corporation will have a cost too. In our intranet, there is multiple applications maintained by several business lines. All of them would have to update (breaking their sites in the process ;))

Another concern is that the plugin or rendering engine of Chrome might have security flaws that my IT dept does not know of, while they got IE6 under control. This leaves the question whether I got the right (legally and technically) to install any plugins at all. If I am forced to use IE6 (and I am) I am likely not allowed to tinker with it.

I can't see corporate IT departments (if that is really the target here) allowing people to install it -- otherwise you might as well just let them use Chrome in the first place?

And off-topic, but @Carey -- no, it doesn't, it's the same in the US and UK, it should be "Google has"

"Google have provided" is perfectly good British (and Australian) English. The US style is gaining in popularity, but that doesn't make the British style wrong.

It depends whether "Google" is singular or plural. Is Google a single corporation or a plural group of people?

@John: The point is that current IE6 only sites can still use the IE6 rendering engine and don't have to make any changes.

New (or updated) sites that want to use modern techniques and don't want to block out IE6 can opt-in to use the Chrome engine.

In summary: IE6 sites (and sites where it doesn't matter) won't include meta tag, non-IE6 sites will.

It all depends on whether you can install an IE6 plugin without admin rights. If you can't, this isn't a lot of use.

Your assumption that the main reason IE 6 is still around is because of tons of intranet applications out there that only work in IE6 seems like a stretch. I've never run into one of these apps. Also, what functionality does IE6 have that is missing in later versions?

I've worked in environments where I didn't have admin access to my computer. It was more about control than compatibility. I just picture an IT guy somewhere who was like "I don't want to learn how to lock down a new browser."

In that same environment, a lot of people needed training on web browsers. I know it's easily forgotten but there are members of our work force who were promoted to important positions before the internet was a part of our daily lives. So there are more people including the IT department who are like "%@#!, I don't want to learn/arrange training for a new browser".

Your assumption that the main reason IE 6 is still around is because of tons of intranet applications out there that only work in IE6 seems like a stretch. I've never run into one of these apps.

I work for a mid-sized electronics manufacturer. I believe we have a a half-dozen web applications that are officially IE6 only, and at least one that officially only supported IE5. None of these were created by us, they all came from vendors.

The one I am familiar with - I was it's system administrator for four years - is now going on eight years old and long, long out of support and we're not upgrading it: officially it will never-ever support anything later than IE5.

Unofficially I was able to hack at the thing a bit so it _did_ support IE6. My successor did the same so it runs IE7 without complaining.

So .. they're out there. We dodged around the issue. Other shops might not have the same luck.

Hi there,
I have already seen it somethere...
Have a nice day


I'm interested in this, but I really don't think you can install the plugin without admin rights on windows, which means users who are stuck with IE6 in a locked down corporate environment won't benefit at all :(

I think we still have to support IE6 and this won't change anything :(

Another issue is the technical ability of most users with IE6. How would they even know this exists or what it is? You'd be surprised how many people say 'Google' when you ask them what Operating System or Web Browser they use is...


A small fly in the ointment. In a locked down environment where users are stuck with MSIE 6, they are rarely allowed to install plug-ins or anything like it.

I.e. This will not solve the MSIE 6 problem once and for all.

I do however predict that lots of XP shops will upgrade to Windows 7.

Internet Exploder is the correct name. This is great but I would rather IE6 users suffer a little more rather than providing another ? months extension on this high liability browser.

Sorry for the long comment, but I'm guessing most people who think this won't change anything don't understand how it will, so let me expand:

Two problems exist right now:

A: Many companies are still standardized on IE6, due to old "web" apps that were designed exclusively for that browser. As Brian mentioned, these are fairly common at the enterprise level. As he also stated, sometimes it's possible to upgrade these apps to make them work in IE7 (and maybe even IE8?)... BUT most companies won't. It's just easier to force users to use the old browser, as opposed to developing their own patches (to applications they likely didn't write in the first place), testing, and deploying them. Annoying, yes... but that's the way it is. (I've never understood why they can't install a *second* browser on their users' systems, and my guess is this is mostly due to laziness/not wanting to answer helpdesk questions.)

B: Some individuals still run IE6 out of ignorance (lack of knowledge of other options, or lack of understanding why other options are better).

C: Because of A & B, the *entire* rest of the web must develop to IE6 in order to be usable. Web developers are stuck in the early part of the decade... Some have already stopped supporting IE6, but that decision limits their site's reach. Others spend countless hours creating hacks and workarounds, or complex systems of progressive-enhancement (where they give newer browsers the better features), but this all takes time... a lot of it. It would be MUCH better if we could code to the standards, and know users will be able to take advantage of all features.

So how will Google Chrome Frame solve these problems?:

A: While it's unlikely these people have the ability to install plugins in their browsers, their companies should be keeping computers somewhat updated (recent Windows upgrades, and likely updates to other plugins like Flash--just not upgrades to the browser itself).

And while nothing except the march of time is going to get these companies to actually *upgrade* their applications, and therefore their users' browsers (this could happen when they want to use external features/services that can't/won't work with their current apps, but as most of these are intranet applications, it happens less than it should). So why would these companies install Chrome Frame? Because it instantly makes the rest of the web better, while requiring them to do nothing to their own apps.

An important thing to know is the users in these companies are requesting their browsers be upgraded... there's a lot IE6 can't do (and we as web developers prod them to complain, as the squeaky wheel gets the grease). These companies have always been able to say no to browser upgrades because the time/money cost they would have to sink into redeveloping their apps, but with Chrome Frame they don't have to. (This doesn't mean they'll automatically install Chrome Frame, or do it without a fight; just that it will be much easier for users to win this fight, as the cost is limited to workstation upgrades, not application upgrades.) So while the individual users in a company likely can't install Chrome Frame, it becomes *much* easier for the IT department (or the VP) to justify doing so.

B: These people very likely do have the ability to install plugins (especially of the click-and-install variety), so an alert saying they can't access the best features of a web site without installing Google Chrome Frame will probably be very effective in getting them to install a plugin (especially from Google, one of the most trusted names on the Internet).

C: We can start developing cutting-edge applications to the latest standards, and forget about IE6 (and maybe all of IE). Not all developers will do this--the decision will be based on their own goals/needs/userbase, but enough will that the web will move forward more quickly than it has over the last few years (and with many fewer hacks). And we'll all be better off...

But sadly, where I work, Google Chrome Frame was forbidden for "security reasons"... IE6 it shall be then.

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