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Google Fixes IE6 with Chrome Frame

By Craig Buckler



Google Chrome FrameChrome Frame is a new open-source product from Google that promises to answer web developer dreams. It’s a free plug-in for IE6, IE7 and IE8 that turns Internet Explorer into Google’s Chrome browser!IE6 should have been retired from public service many years ago, but we’re still adding silly CSS workarounds and testing for XmlHttpRequest objects to make pages work. Web developers may rant hysterically about the shortcomings of IE, but the browser is steadfastly ingrained into many corporate environments that depend on legacy web applications. Even home users eschew upgrades and alternative browsers to retain their simpler, tab-free web existence.Google shares our pain. They’re committed to HTML5 and products such as Google Wave are likely to fail abysmally in IE. Their solution is elegant — if not a little sneaky:

  1. An IE user installing Chrome Frame will download a small 500KB plug-in. The plug-in will download a further 10MB of Chrome code in the background.
  2. IE will appear to be untouched. The interface does not change and Microsoft’s Trident engine is still used by default.
  3. However, any page including the following meta tag will magically transform IE so it uses Chrome’s rendering engine:
    <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1">

    Note that browsers with Chrome Frame installed will add “chromeframe” to the HTTP user-agent string. It’s therefore possible to detect the plug-in server-side, then insert the meta tag or redirect to a Chrome Frame download page.Google are also providing a JavaScript-based alternative that prompts users to install the plug-in.

Google software engineer Alex Russell explains further…

Private users and corporations can adopt Chrome Frame without scrapping or altering any of their legacy applications. Users won’t realize they’re using Chrome because the IE interface remains unchanged.But … will it work?Chrome Frame is currently in beta so it’s a little early to tell. Adding a plug-in should be easier than upgrading or installing an alternative browser, but will users do it? Security-conscious companies are likely to be blocking IE plug-ins already.Chrome Frame is certainly a novel solution and will help browser migration. The industry will be watching for Microsoft’s reaction…Is Chrome Frame the answer to your web development prayers? Is Google benefiting end users or just themselves? Will the next IE update suspiciously block certain plug-ins?Links:

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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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