Web Technology

Does Chrome Frame do more harm than good?

There’s been a bit of buzz around the web lately after Google proposed a solution to the IE6 problem in Chrome Frame. While it seems like a great idea up front, there’s actually quite a bit of controversy behind whether or not this is a valid solution. Read on for a quick summary of anything you might have missed, followed by my own take on the matter and a chance to share yours.

Let’s get you caught up

Internet Explorer 6 is a browser that was created for Windows XP and released in 2001. Due to the massive popularity of XP and the widespread adoption of the Internet Explorer name going into this millennium, it’s still used today by a non-ignorable portion of web users. This is a problem for web developers, because it’s often necessary to bend over backwards in order to get new and exciting web products to perform reasonably in a browser that is about half as old as the world wide web itself.

While developing Wave, Google had to come up with a solution for IE6, and decided to do something novel by creating a plug-in for Internet Explorer which replaces the entire web page with an instance of Google Chrome, a very modern browser capable of rendering the latest-and-greatest the web has to offer. This “Chrome Frame” is then used to render the intended page, all completely transparent to the user who is still using and looking at Internet Explorer.

Now obviously this was met with a bit of backlash from Microsoft, who was none too happy seeing Google inject its Chrome rendering engine into Redmond’s (in)famous browser. They pointed out that this makes IE less secure, which Google obviously disagrees with, and some blogs noted (correctly) that Chrome Frame breaks accessibility features in IE which is kind of a big deal. Further supporting Microsoft was Mozilla (!) who referred to the Chrome Frame solution as “browser soup”.

Of course there are many proponents of Chrome Frame as well; it is a very convenient way to handle the growing discrepancy between IE6 and the modern web, and in some cases that benefit alone will outweigh the issues described above. There’s an article about how Chrome Frame will affect the corporate world which has sparked some very interesting discussion in the comments (which are now more enlightening than the article itself) — I highly recommend taking a look.

My thoughts on the matter

I think an underrated aspect of this debate is that this is about users, and what they expect from a browser. It’s not a technical problem, and it shouldn’t be met with a technical solution. Google is essentially offering a patch that will encourage users to continue browsing the web with a broken browser. What Google should do is inform users of the problems with IE6 and explain the benefits of a new browser with a very strong recommendation to upgrade. This will result in more educated users using better browsers, which is far more valuable to Google and the web as a whole than more users still clinging to IE6.

What’s your take?

There are a lot of different ways to look at this issue. Share your perspective and leave a comment!