Mozilla Joins Microsoft in Slamming Google Chrome Frame

Contributing Editor

Google Chrome FrameThis is a surprise. Mozilla has slammed Chrome Frame, the Google plugin that fixes Internet Explorer by providing the Chrome browser engine within the IE interface. Google decided that it was easier to create an IE plugin than make their new HTML5 applications backward-compatible with IE6, IE7 and IE8.

Mitchell Baker, chairman of the Mozilla Foundation and former Mozilla CEO questioned the decision for the plugin:

The overall effects of Chrome Frame are undesirable.

I predict positive results will not be enduring and — and to the extent it is adopted — Chrome Frame will end in growing fragmentation and loss of control for most of us, including Web developers.

But Chrome Frame’s biggest problem is that it cedes control to the site, not the person surfing. And that will just confuse users. Once your browser has fragmented into multiple rendering engines, it’s very hard to manage information across Web sites. Some information will be manageable from the browser you use and some information from Chrome Frame. This defeats one of the most important ways in which a browser can help people manage their experience.

Imagine having the Google browser-within-a-browser for some sites, the Facebook browser-within-a-browser for Facebook Connect sites, the Apple variant for iTunes, the mobile-carrier variant for your mobile sites.

Each browser-within-a-browser variant will have its own feature set, its own quirks, and its own security problems. The result is a sort of browser-soup, where the Web is less knowable, less understandable and certainly less manageable.

Mike Shaver, Mozilla’s vice president of engineering added:

The user’s understanding of the Web’s security model and the behavior of their browser is seriously hindered by delegating the choice of software to the developers of individual sites they visit. It is a problem that we have seen repeatedly with other stack plugins like Flash, Silverlight and Java, and not one that I think we need to see replayed again under the banner of HTML 5.

It would be better for the Web if developers who want to use the Chrome Frame snippet simply told users that their site worked better in Chrome, and instructed them on how to install it.

It’s taken long enough for the industry to adopt web standards, so Mozilla’s concerns about fragmentation and web sites adopting their own browser plugins is valid. In an ideal world, web developers should never need a plugin and HTML5 goes some way to achieving that dream.

However, the introduction of Chrome Frame will not necessarily open the floodgates for site-specific plugins. Google’s goal is to allow IE users to access modern web applications in situations when they will not or can not use an alternative browser. The plug-in integrates well with IE: favorites, history, and cookies are shared so few users will realize they’ve switched to Chrome’s view.

I hope we never encounter the situation where web sites can specify which browser engine should be used (a possibility Microsoft investigated). Many would say that’s exactly what Chrome Frame’s doing, but Google’s passive implementation is more like a DOCTYPE switch between standards and quirks mode. (Actually, Google, that’s not a bad idea — if the user visits an HTML5 page, the browser could automatically switch to Chrome).

We should also note that Mozilla is an open source organization and can take the moral high-ground. They encouraged Firefox adoption by producing a better browser than Microsoft. Google are a commercial company that primarily creates web applications; their ambitions and future profits could be hindered by IE and it’s sedate progress.

Mozilla’s statements puts the company on the same side as Microsoft (who also slammed Chrome Frame but did so less eloquently!) Mozilla has made some interesting points, but their concerns are hypothetical and a little over-reactive. We all want corporations and users to upgrade to the latest browsers but it’s not happened at the pace we’d like. Chrome Frame is a clever short-term solution that could help the adoption of HTML5.

What do you think? Are Mozilla’s criticisms valid? Could Chrome Frame fragment the web?

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  • madr

    Microsoft should thank and credit Mozilla for adding valid arguments to this debate.

  • Vladimir

    Finally, thoughts that make sense. As if web developers don’t have enough troubles with cross-browser compatibility… And all that now when we are so close to eliminating IE6 for good… If Google wants to fight IE6, it would be better to suggest to visitors to upgrade (like YouTube does).

  • Digital Craft

    @madr

    Microsoft should thank and credit Mozilla for adding valid arguments to this debate.
    madrNo Avatar

    I agree, a more technical and less emotional approach

  • Anonymous

    The word “fixes” says a lot. IE6 was a browser released in 2001. The last time I checked, HTML5 is not even finalized yet. I guess HTML5 was broken in IE6 when it came out in 2001. Fanboys make me laugh.

    MS and Mozilla want people to upgrade. What’s wrong with that? Not enough ram? Give me a break. You’re just kidding yourself. You can pick up a computer at the salvation army that would run Windows XP with the latest version of firefox these days.

  • http://techchorus.net bngsudheer

    If you improve IE 6 when it’s manufacturer won’t, you don’t call it fragmentation. It is a smart idea and positive solution. No one is forcing IE users to switch to Google Chrome Frame. The user can decide for themselves which browser and rendering engine to use. I appreciate the fact that Google Chrome Frame has brought awareness among users about the issues surrounding legacy software and IE6 in particular.

    Regards,
    Sudheer
    Tech Chorus

  • ljm

    I think the article misses the point when it characterises Mozilla as an open-source organisation. It’s an organisation focused on putting end-users in control of their online experience (and it uses open source software to that end).

    The distinction is important because the Google Chrome Frame issue is about who has control – end users or publishers. Google (and other publishers) want increased control of your online experience. Mozilla’s mission involves users being in the drivers seat. Both Mozilla and Google want to improve your online experience – but their vision of who is in control is quite different.
    Personally, I like being in control of my online experience. But I know a lot of people who don’t care.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @ljm
    Chrome Frame’s primary targets are those who can not control or choose their online experience, i.e. users in large corporations that continue to use IE6 to access legacy web applications.

    Mozilla produce a browser: they would love those users to switch to Firefox but their success does not depend on it.

    Google produce web applications: they probably don’t care which modern browser people use, but their commercial success depends on sophisticated programs that won’t work as well in older browsers.

    Chrome Frame solves a specific problem that’s occurring today: it allows users to access modern and legacy apps within the same browser. Over time, that situation should be alleviated so there will be less need for Chrome Frame.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    Google produce web applications: they probably don’t care which modern browser people use

    As long as it’s one they support :P (Any color as long as its black)

    Kind of ironic though to hear Mozilla objecting to a paradigm where sites have more control over browser technology, when their JetPack API does exactly that.

    I’ll just stick to Opera – it’s by far the most user-centric browser out there.

  • hiphip

    The user’s understanding of the Web’s security model and the behavior of their browser is seriously hindered by delegating the choice of software to the developers of individual sites they visit

    This plugin is for people who can’t choose their software, or just don’t understand nothing about software. For the others, there are better choices and I don’t believe they will ever use this plugin.

    I wellcome this plugin, for now the webdevelopers can easily give a nice experience to everyone, even if they are living in the edge.

  • AnonJr

    And yet, people keep forgetting that this is all over HTML5 – a draft spec. Instead of trying to force adoption for an unfinished standard, Google should be hounding the working group over the snails pace HTML5 is taking.

  • Eber

    I guess that most web developers know by now that Google Chrome Framw doesn’t really solve anything.

  • punkcoder

    Funny that Mozilla is saying this, considering the following quote from this article.

    This Canvas plugin is only the first step toward bringing standards-based web technologies to Internet Explorer. Mozilla is working on a much more ambitious initiative called Screaming Monkey 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.

  • ljm

    @Craig – I am not so sure that there will be less of Chrome Frame over time.

    It seems to me that if a user has a terrific online experience when using Chrome Frame in IE 6, they may want continuity of experience via Chrome Frame in IE8 and 9.

  • http://www.isquaretechnologies.com SSJ

    OMG.. That’s a big surprise.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @ljm
    As legacy web applications are updated (and Windows XP usage dwindles), companies will not need to stick with IE6 and they can choose any browser as the corporate default. The non-IE browsers don’t have or need Chrome Frame. Even though CF supports IE8, there’s far fewer reasons to install it.

    Chrome Frame should die with IE6 and IE7. It might continue if MS refuse to adopt HTML5 but who knows how that will pan out.

  • Jasconius

    Mozilla assumes that other third parties like Apple would have a motivation to make their own IE layer. It’s not like it’s easy to do, and for what gain?

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @punkcoder
    That’s a good point about Screaming Monkey. Several organizations including Mozilla are producing IE plugins that implement missing technologies. Pots and kettles!

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @Jasconius
    Mozilla seem concerned that any website could adopt it’s own plugin technology or browser frame system. It could happen, but it’s unlikely and you could hardly blame Chrome Frame if it did.

    At least Google is being realistic. They accept that IE will remain no matter how good the competition gets and have come up with a neat solution.

    Of course, Microsoft could banish CF in an instant if they provided an IE6 compatibility mode or allowed multiple versions of IE to exist on the same PC at the same time.

  • http://www.quasarcr.com/ Ramiro S

    The problem here is IE6 and business models that cannot make an upgrade. Forcing them to move to another browser is not possible (according to businesses). So I think what Google did its ok. I mean, it shouldn’t be that way but it they did a move to get a benefit fro their own web applications and at the same time offered a solution to a browser that refuses to go.

    Lets be honest, designing for IE6 is a pain, a waste of time but we don’t want to loose that market share. For people doing trendy stuff is not a problem and I understand their point of view but we are talking about corporate web applications, productivity suits… I have customers were IE6 is between 20% – 70%… it is impossible to use web apps in those cases, they don’t want to migrate.

  • Ali Baba

    Google’s goal is to allow IE users to access modern web applications in situations when they will not or can not use an alternative browser

    How that possible? If user can’t install alternative browser how they can install Google Frame?
    I think it will create more issues for web developers, web designers.
    What companies and users need to do is upgrade to latest version of a browser.

  • MonkeyMan

    Chrome is awesome to alleviate the issue that large organizations who have enterprise wide software which for some godly reason only works in IE6 do not upgrade their browsers. It is a great alternative to a site not working on IE6 or spending countless hours making AJAX type integration work on IE6.

    We should be asking why doesn’t IE fix their crappy browser?.. instead of some other company stepping in and doing it for them, cuz the truth is they still have over 30% market share on that crap old browser and allowing organizations to choose from newer standards compliance browsers will only diminish their market share.

  • Michael Butler

    Microsoft fails because multiple versions of it’s Internet Explorer web browser cannot be (without 3rd party configurations) installed and be usable simultaneously. If this were the case, people using legacy applications (think Intranet) on IE 6 could still upgrade (or have their IT department upgrade) to the latest version of IE 8.

    Still, you have to look from Google’s perspective on why they made the move — their new flagship HTML5-enhanced web application Wave doesn’t work well with ANY version of Internet Explorer, and IE 8 doesn’t even support much of the enhancements that Firefox and Webkit implemented years ago (CSS3, SVG).

    No matter what anyone thinks, there IS a limit to what you can do on the web with HTML 4. Eventually you’re going to hit a wall if you’re trying to bring desktop-like features to your web site.

  • RobbieGoD

    I’m with mozilla on this one. I think it was clever of Google to make a plugin like that, but I don’t know, something doesn’t feel right about it.

    I’d rather suggest to the user to upgrade to a better, more recent browser.

  • Che

    I’d rather suggest to the user to upgrade to a better, more recent browser.

    The problem is there are large corporations out there who have legacy applications that use IE6 as the interface. These have been tested to death and have been coded to work with IE6 only. For a corporation to update their browsers would require lots of man hours and finances. Just so they can have transparency etc. Its just not feasible for a corporation at the current time.

    Problem is that a lot of these corporation users also surf the web. Microsoft should have come out with a solution to allow corporations to upgrade yet still have legacy apps work.

  • David

    I would love to see IE6 less used, but my main client’s site still gets 25% of its traffic from IE6. What Google is doing makes perfect business sense for them.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @Ali Baba and RobbieGod

    How that possible? If user can’t install alternative browser how they can install Google Frame?

    I’d rather suggest to the user to upgrade to a better, more recent browser.

    Alternative or multiple browsers can be an expensive option in large corporations.

    CF is a plugin that installs within IE6, 7 or 8 in the same way as Flash. End users probably wouldn’t do the installation, but IT departments could (assuming it’s easy to remotely distribute).

    See “Why Corporations Don’t Upgrade IE6 and How Chrome Frame Could Help” for further details…

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    @Michael Butler — actually IE8 does implement quite a lot of CSS3. Also IE5.5+ would support SVG had the W3C not decided to re-write the spec from scratch after IE implemented the original one (as what is now VML).

    I’m no IE fan, but thre are two sides to every story.

    Also, HTML5 doesn’t “do” anything that HTML4 + scripting can’t do. All HTML5 really offers is better semantics.

  • Andrew NYC

    Who is really to blame here? Microsoft is the largest, best funded, largest staffed software company in the world. Why do other companies even need to entertain the idea of creating a browser plug-in for IE. The truth is that IE is the worst browser anybody can use, and if it weren’t for the fact that it comes bundled with Windows, nobody would.

    Microsoft should be ashamed at the piece of junk browser they have produced, and the fact that they force it on the public who doesn’t know better makes life for web developers hard, not things like plug-ins.

    The rule of thumb is, spend 30% of your time creating a standards based web application, then spend the other 70% figuring out how to jimmy rig it for IE.

    I blame Microsoft 100% for every single cross-browser problem that exists today. We should all be throwing our shoes at them, not Google.

  • James T.

    Ted Chorus: The manufacturer (Microsoft) did fix IE5. The fix is called IE6… or IE8 for that matter.

  • Crystal

    @Craig

    IT depts. _could_ implement it, but won’t for the most part. It would be a waste of their time; there’s little chance that management will give them any budget for time and resources to install a plugin whose sole function is to make non-company sites work better for employees, who are probably not supposed to be looking at non-company sites to start with. There’s no incentive, and quite a bit of disincentive.

    But my real question is, how does this affect conditional comments and browser parser-quirk hacks? If I’m on IE7 with GF and encounter a conditional comment that targets IE7 to fix a positioning issue, will it return true or false? If it returns true, then the css that’s served up may actually BREAK the site instead of fixing it. Will it read * html if I’m in IE6 and try to render it even though I’m using GF?

  • Kutztown

    Chrome Frame doesn’t create a “browser-soup”, it just adds to the soup. IE8′s compatibility mode button and the “IE Tab” Firefox extension are 2 examples, both of which require user intervention. Either way it allows the user to change their experience of a single website from within a single browser.

  • RobbieGoD

    @Craig – I am confused by your statement because I think we need identify who the audience of this plugin really would be. Would it be large corporations with the intranets that have been “mad” tested in IE6 and fully function in IE6. NO!!!! These large corporations are not the target. I would think that most IT departments would be just as against installing the Google Frame plugin as they would be installing the IE7 or IE8. Wouldn’t the same reasoning apply? The reason: They don’t want to upgrade because yada yada yada. it will cost alot of time and money. blah blah blah.

    or maybe i am wrong. It seems confusing to me. Everyone keeps saying that upgrading to a modern browser will cost companies money, but what google frame does in essence is upgrade the browser to a more modern browser via a plugin. Why not just install Firefox?? And use IE6 for the corporate intranet?

  • RobbieGoD

    @Crystal

    I think what should happen is this. I think when Google Frame is installed it makes IE6,7,8 run like Google Chrome. So, yes, in essence you have the shell of IE6,7, or 8 but i would think that the browser would be read as Google Chrome.

    Am i right?

  • RobbieGoD

    @Kutztown

    I think it does create a sort of “browser-soup”. (or i think you meant that there is already a browser-soup and here is just another flavor to try!)

    So, now the possibilities have doubled of what we need to test (yeah that fast! Thanks google!)

    We IE6,IE7,IE8, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and now we IE6 + Google Frame, IE7 + Google Frame, IE8 + Google Frame.

    I love that, they just created 3 more variations for us to have to test. I say I don’t like browser hijacking, which is basically what this is.

    IF i was Microsoft I would write something that just makes it so the plugin doesnt work in IE6,7,8. I’m sure they can figure some way to make the browser break.

    You should give Microsoft some credit. IE7 is strides ahead of IE6 and is a great browser. IE8 has alot of cool features too that i am waiting for my copy of Windows 7 to come out before i try it.

    Can’t wait!

  • ranjan

    I think it’s about choice and choice is always good.


    Lack of choice shows lack of understanding and lack of
    understanding shows lack of intelligence.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @Crystal and RobbieGod
    IE will still run as IE when Chrome Frame is installed. Conditional comments will work and so will all the other IE-specific code.

    However, your web page can detect the existence of CF and, if necessary, force IE to render using the Chrome engine by adding a meta tag (see Google Chrome Frame: the Technical Details).

    Part of the reason corporates don’t upgrade to IE7/8 is because they have IE6-specific web applications which won’t work in other browsers. They could install an alternative browser to run alongside IE6, but that would just confuse many users and increase support costs.

    Installing Chrome Frame is a viable solution if their internal web development team want to use modern techniques whilst still supporting legacy code. See Why Corporations Don’t Upgrade IE6 and How Chrome Frame Could Help.

  • Galen

    Seems like a really good idea to me. It doesn’t seem like IE will ever die (at least not for a while), so this might be a good fix if it gets adopted. I don’t know why Mozilla is putting up such a stink. Seems to me like they should mind their own business.

  • Dan

    Everyone talks about corporations needing IE for their old legacy applications, and how GF is only necessary for sites on the internet that they probably shouldn’t be looking at anyway, but that isn’t the case. It is exactly the opposite.

    I develop Intranets – exclusively – for many corporations. In the past, I would simply tell them that they could save about 80% of the initial investment AND long term maintenance if they simply “picked” a browser. You see, they can. Why in the world would they pay for Opera & Firefox and 10 versions of IE when they can say, “OK, we are going to develop and test this site and all future changes to this site on IE6. Period”

    Bam. They just saved thousands of hours of development time. Web-enabled Database systems that would have cost them about 80-100k are down to 20k. Unfortunately, you end up with something that is ‘going to be’ a legacy system that only runs on XYZ.

    With GF, I simply say, “OK, you can save 80% of costs if you install GF, and we’ll simply program for that”. The endless arguments with IT staff about which browser suddenly becomes GF or no GF. They look at it and see it isn’t another “Application”, so it’s no big deal.

    For me…. It’s a big selling point and it makes my life easier. On the public internet… who knows. I can see some benefits, but… well, nothing big. I mean, my public stuff has to work on IE anyway, so what’s GF going to do for me? Perhaps I can make it look nicer for some people? Not really.

    It comes down to money. corporations save money by using it for internal development exactly the same way they’d save money by choosing an OS and browser version for an internal system.

    Public internet sites… well, it’s much harder to quantify quality.

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