By Craig Buckler

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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  • Chris Johnson

    Looks like there are some questions about Chrome Frame’s lack accessibility features:

  • mateo

    “Security-conscious companies are likely to be blocking IE plug-ins already.” … more like, security conscious companies are likely not using IE. Period.

  • Anonymous

    Google is taking out the advanced weaponry to put IE to bed. It is both comical and diabolically brilliant!

    I can’t wait to see how this shakes out…

  • Bruce

    Wondering how this will show up in Google Analytics. Will we see that the user is using the Frame plug in?

  • Brian Allen

    Okay. Do you think that most corporations who are too conservative to upgrade from IE6 will really go station to station and install a plug-in into IE6? Also, will regular users who seem to be content with IE6 (or are too lazy to upgrade) will really bother to do this? I like the theory, but it doesn’t make sense practically.

  • dawgbone

    Completely useless… if they aren’t going to upgrade, why are they going to install this?

  • seems silly to me, wouldn’t it be much “safer” for the overly anxious system manager to upgrade to ie7.
    large inflexible organisations are the main source of ie6 inertia, I don’t think they are the target group that will install a 3rd party plugin like this.

    Who is this targetted at?

  • The main problem I have with this is the background download. I don’t like anything that is downloaded in the background for mainly two reasons: 1 I want to know what I a downloading with the information that it will display like how long I should wait and 2 I want to be able to save the files to use later on other systems.

    I agree with @dawgbone that they will not install this plug-in
    This is just another attempt to wipe out IE6 which will fail like all te other attempts

  • IEHater

    Almost any corporate network thats locked into IE6 has the ability to deploy plugins from a central location.

    The main reason large corporations will not give up IE6 is because they spent years developing custom ActiveX controls for their systems that require IE6.

    I bet Google’s strategy here is to target these large scale MIS departments, and convince them its in everyone’s best interest to deploy this plugin. No need to scrap the ActiveX controls, easy deployment for IT guys, end users can still get company work done and utilize new websites (like Google Wave).

    I guarantee Google is not worried about the individual users afraid or unable to upgrade. They are trying to go for mass deployments. Brilliant.

  • Jorge

    A Plugin for Internet Explorer isn’t as reliable. Regular users don’t even know that there’s an Internet Explorer Version 8 out. Many users don’t keep up with the up to date technology. I doubt that they will know that a plugin has been released. Even if they are prompted to install the plugin, they will click “No”, just as I do.

  • nachenko

    I liek the theory, but unless it installs easily and flawlessly on computers with the Google toolbar installed, I don’t get how the hell are they going to convince anyone to install this.

  • W2ttsy

    the only way this could work would be to handle it like the flash plugin. Developers stick the meta tag in, and then it displayed a little icon at the top of the page that says “you must have Chrome Frame” installed to use this functionality. Pretty much the same as going to a flash enabled site without flash.

    of course this is in the same boat then as all the switcher style messages, and doesnt solve the problem for people who cant/wont upgrade beyond ie6. Even if Microsoft did something to fix all the main issues in IE6, it wouldnt matter because you’d end up with two user sets, those with fixed IE6 and those with old IE6.

    not to mention the pirated software users who cant physically migrate to IE7 because the services packs aren’t registering their OS install..

  • mjn



  • I think the chances of the average IE6 user doing anything to help us out are slim at best.

    1) They don’t know how to do anything except check email, and turning on the computer is probably a challenge.

    2) They are in a corporate environment, and have no control over their machine.

  • It would be great if they could get that second download down to, say, 3-5MB — even if it meant stripping a few high end things.

    It all comes down to how slick and seamless the implementation is I think.

    Think of this like the Flash plugin. The only time Joe Sixpack User is aware Flash exists is when he/she is asked if he wants to upgrade.

    Now, a lot of users would probably *like* to get better experiences in JS-centric web apps like Backpack, Gmail, Flickr, Picasa, etc but are corporately tied to IE6.

    This ‘IE-plug-in’ might be an easier option for sysadmins to steer through corporate red tape than a complete browser install.

  • Graham Cole

    I love IE 6 …i hate google

  • @AlexW: stripping important functionality that would prompt the use of that plugin in the first place (say, SVG and HTML5 audio/video support) for the sake of saving a few megabytes sounds like a very very bad trade-off to me.

  • Ali Baba

    This is really pointless.

  • Ali Baba

    Here is my post for web developers.
    Now to test you web app/site you would need to add to your browsers list (IE6, IE7, IE8, Opera,Chrome, Firefox) IE with Chrome Frame.

  • Joshua

    I think the point of this is to make Google’s web apps work better (and with less development cost) on more browsers. Perhaps it is less important as a plug-in for IE6 than it is for 7 and 8.

  • Martin Morrey

    If Google are committed enough to require IE7- users to install this plugin before using key Google applications like GMail, Google Maps, YouTube etc, then it could really make if a difference. If they aren’t, then what’s the point?

  • Scott Petrovic

    I really don’t see this putting an end to IE6 or its problems. There must be some need for this type of plugin, or Google probably wouldn’t have bothered developing it. I don’t foresee any web designers/developers implementing this meta tag unless they see some proof or evidence that there is a significant amount of people that have the plugin installed.

    I only see this as Google prodding Microsoft to do something more about the IE6 problem. Something more aggressive like this needs to be done to get the ball rolling faster.

  • Les

    > Is Chrome Frame the answer to your web development
    > prayers?

    I wish that were so easy as that – the only thing that could answer our prays would be the complete demise of IE altogether.

    > … more like, security conscious companies are likely
    > not using IE. Period.

    I agree, as even with ActiveX plugins disabled in IE it is still possible for trojans et al to by pass IEs security measures (if any exist at all that is).

    The only solution is 1) stop using IE as a main stay browser and 2) designers and developers alike should stop taking this browser into account.

    Enough said then.

  • This will mostly be useful for developers of innovative web applications. For some projects, it may make sense to only support modern browsers. Especially if you’re using some new HTML5 technology or other essential technology not supported in IE.

    Previously, all you could do was say: “sorry, we don’t support IE.” Now you can say: “our site requires the free Google Chrome Frame plugin. You may install it here.”

    If your goal is alleviate a bit of IE compatibility pain, this plugin is not a good solution (for a professional website). If it’s enabling new opportunities using new technologies, it make more sense.

  • A follow-up article is now available…
    Why Corporations Don’t Upgrade IE6 and How Chrome Frame Could Help

    It should answer some of the “but why don’t users just upgrade because I say so” comments!

  • I never got into Chrome, but it doesn’t surprise me that Microsoft did.

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