This 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?
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.