Another day, another Google system bites the dust. Google is retiring Chrome Frame. While an exact end date is yet to be announced, support and updates will cease in early 2014.
Chrome Frame is a free plug-in for IE6, 7 and 8 which effectively runs the Chrome (webkit) rendering engine within the oldIE browser. Web developers could send a meta tag or HTTP header to force the browser into Chrome mode while legacy sites and applications retained the default IE view for compatibility.
It was a great idea, although the plug-in was slammed by Microsoft as being a “security risk” and Mozilla claimed it could “fragment the web”. Both may have been legitimate concerns but, in the end, neither came to pass.
Google has decided there’s no need for Chrome Frame in the modern post-oldIE era:
In 2009, many people were using browsers that lagged behind the leading edge. In order to reach the broadest base of users, developers often had to either build multiple versions of their applications or not use the new capabilities at all.
Today, most people are using modern browsers that support the majority of the latest web technologies. Better yet, the usage of legacy browsers is declining significantly and newer browsers stay up to date automatically, which means the leading edge has become mainstream.
Chrome Frame development was only viable while oldIEs remained important. Today, IE6 and 7 account for less than 1% of users. IE8 is relatively high with just under 9%, but it’s dropping almost 1% every month and will become largely irrelevant by 2014 (especially when Microsoft drop XP support).
Google has never revealed Chrome Frame download or usage figures although you will find them in your Analytics statistics. On SitePoint, it’s used by 0.1% of users although that’s unlikely to be typical across the web.
The Google blog states: if you are a developer with an app that points users to Chrome Frame, please prompt visitors to upgrade to a modern browser. Personally, I don’t think that’s necessary. oldIE users are bombarded with messages — they’re unlikely to be using IE6, 7 or 8 because they prefer it. Of course, I hope those users upgrade or switch to a better browser. If they can’t, they can retain Chrome Frame indefinitely — Google won’t magically uninstall it from their machine.
Chrome Frame was novel solution to the oldIE problem. We may never know whether it received a widespread distribution but, as Google point out:
It’s unusual to build something and hope it eventually makes itself obsolete, but in this case we see the retirement of Chrome Frame as evidence of just how far the web has come.
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.