Google Chrome Frame

I wanted to write an article about it but missed a few cycles to do it before. This morning, I read Mitchell Baker's and Mike Shaver's articles about it. I could not agree more with them but I think Mitchell and Mike are missing a point in both their conclusions... Let's look at the facts here:

  • Google Chrome Frame (I'll write GCF below) is similar, in nature, to the IE-tab add-on for Firefox. It adds another rendering engine to IE and under certain circumstances triggers it to render the document instead of the default builtin rendering engine of IE.
  • so download is done by IE, and rendering can be done by WebKit ; no wonder why the stats reported by the media are closer to Google Chrome's than IE's...
  • Users and companies sticking to IE usually have a good reason for that: they don't know alternative browsers exist, or they have corporate websites that use proprietary features of IE and they cannot get rid of it at this time for various reasons, or they don't have system privileges to install such an alternative browser. GCF will not help here, since these features will not be reachable from within WebKit. And if they have no idea about alternative browsers, it's very unlikely they will ever learn about GCF... Don't forget such a plugin is not triggered by the usual HTML suspects like the EMBED tag. When IE (the regular one, without GCF) encounters <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1">, it's just unable to let the user know about GCF and offer to download and use it.
  • yes, yes, I know you can also prepend "cf:" to a URL to make it render by GCF. But links in GCF? Hey, automatically back to IE's rendering engine. Bah.
  • it's very unlikely that GCF is going to reflect all dynamic DOM changes inside its rendering engine back to IE's. So all IE add-ons based on the document tree will probably fail miserably. For the same reason, printing a document probably becomes a rather complex task unless GCF includes a stub printer driver acting as a proxy between IE and GCF's printing engine. As a matter of fact, the Print menu item in IE+GCF is now greyed out for documents rendered by GCF and the only way to print the document is a context-click in the viewport... Superb :-(
  • similarly, making all the usual dialogs of IE work correctly with a document rendered by GCF is probably doable, but really complex and painful: WebKit has to call back the IE layer to save passwords, or retrieve them to populate form data in documents it renders. It's a painful task to maintain such a bi-directional wrapper and evolutions of IE will inevitably impact GCF rather drastically. Only the address bar will be partially saved from that since download is always done by IE.
  • honestly, the meta tag above is ugly. It's the very same comment I made when I first saw Apple's meta viewport tag for iPhone-specific web pages (while we have CSS Media Queries in hand...). Let's suppose a site uses that tag because it's written in HTML5 and wants to let current-IE users visit using GCF. Now let's suppose - that's not only purely theoretical - that a future version of IE is HTML5-compliant. What will happen? The website's owner can remove the tag, and then legacy IE versions are lost, or keep it and modern-IE users are redirected to WebKit instead of the builtin rendering engine?!? That's non-sense. That's harmful. That's bad.

Globally, I take Google Chrome Frame only as a proof of concept. I do not think it's meant to reach a large user base; or if it does, it will be a good surprise even for Google themselves. It's partly here to attract people to Google Chrome but in my personal opinion, it's also and mainly here to show, at a time some at Microsoft openly wonder why they still maintain IE's core, IE can and should dump its proprietary closed-source rendering engine in favor of WebKit.


1. On Tuesday 29 September 2009, 15:10 by Comctrl6

Sure, sure. It's bad. Pfff.

You Mozilla guys are just getting your panties in a bunch because your horrible code base doesn't allow you to come up with stuff like this. I mean it had to hurt when even Epiphany switched to WebKit.

Now all you're doing is trying to copy Chome's features down to the ass-backwards GUI, without actually considering the usability of it. (e.g. Removing the menus in Firefox and replacing them with toolbar buttons.)

2. On Tuesday 29 September 2009, 15:20 by Dan

Google Chrome Frame is not just a PoC. Google intends to deploy it for Google Wave which makes use of HTML5 technologies that IE doesn't support at all.

"When IE (the regular one, without GCF) encounters <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1">, it's just unable to let the user know about GCF and offer to download and use it."

This can't be true since Google themselves have said visiting Wave in IE will present a prompt asking you to use another browser or to download GCF. The best way I can think of is that GCF probably adds some text to IE's UA, or adds it's own HTTP request header. Either way the server has to be told of its existence so the server can suppress the prompt to offer it.

3. On Tuesday 29 September 2009, 15:29 by Daniel Glazman

@Comctrl6: BWAHAHA!!! You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. Embedding Gecko in a plugin is not hard but you know what? We just do not see the point, that's all.
Speaking of Chrome's UI - and I do not work for Mozilla or on Firefox UI - I find it not matching my own needs. And FWIW I personnally disagree with turning menus into buttons, a move that triggered huge user disappointment when IE7 adopted such UI.

4. On Tuesday 29 September 2009, 19:17 by David Naylor

Here, I've got all the answers for you. The big problem with Chrome Frame: http://davidnaylor.org/blog/2009/09...

5. On Tuesday 29 September 2009, 21:30 by Elixon

It looks like Google run out of patience. They probably realized that they are hitting the ceiling with current technologies. They are up to something bigger then the current technology allows (we all are ;-).

Problem is that Microsoft will not have much an interest into improving IE (they never had in this millennium) knowing that Google will be able to benefit from cutting-edge browsers much more then Microsoft.

Google is simply threatening and trying to provoke. They have nothing to loose. Either GCF will succeed as a plugin or Microsoft will try to convince the users that IE itself is better and will invest into development... At the end Google wins either way.

6. On Wednesday 30 September 2009, 03:55 by anonymous

If it were only for IE6, then I think this plugin is fine and a good short term solution. Regardless if they don't have user permission to install it on their corporate machine, they wouldn't have it to install chrome or firefox either. If people can install it and see what they're missing then maybe they would be inspired to install a different browser. If people do this and switch to something other than IE it's a huge win for the web, and then we can stop adding specific tags to make pages render correctly. I admit it's a long shot but it offers more hope than we've had before.

7. On Wednesday 30 September 2009, 04:08 by Steve

"Mozilla is working on a much more ambitious initiative called Screaming Monkey [mozilla.org] that will make it possible to plug Mozilla's entire next-generation JavaScript engine directly into Microsoft's web browser. If these plugins gain widespread acceptance, it will empower web developers and give them the ability to target web standards and not have to compensate as much for Internet Explorer's broken behavior"