Last week, Google announced Chrome Frame — a plugin for running their Chrome browser inside Internet Explorer. Early response from web developers has been predictably positive: they’ve been suffering under the reign of Internet Explorer for years, and even in 2009 they have to deal with Internet Explorer 6. I certainly share that longing for a web in which the vast majority of web users enjoy the performance and capabilities we see in Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Opera. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Chrome Frame gets us closer to that web.
Users who wish to render sites with Chrome can already use Chrome, of course, and should. If they want to keep using IE for sites that the site’s developers agree work better with Chrome — and we agree that the majority of sites are much better with a more modern browser than Internet Explorer — it is likely because of application behaviour. Running Chrome Frame within IE makes many of the browser application’s features non-functional, or less effective. These include private browsing mode or their other security controls, features like accelerators or add-ons that operate on the content area, or even accessibility support.
(Many users who are using IE rather than a more modern browser, especially those who are using the long-suffered IE 6, are likely to be unable to use Chrome Frame due to lack of system permissions or because they are running too old an operating system.)
As a side-effect, the user’s understanding of the web’s security model and the behaviour 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 HTML5. 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. The user would be educated about the benefits of an alternate browser, would understand better the choice they were making, and the kudos for Chrome’s performance would accrue to Google rather than to Microsoft.