Chrome Frame hops over PC lockdown barrier

A helper process means even those who don't have administrator privileges to install a better browser can give IE6 a Chrome brain transplant.

Google Wave wouldn't work on Internet Explorer and suggested people install Chrome Frame as a workaround. Google ditched Wave, but not the idea that people need a modern browser to enable Google's advanced online services.
Google Wave wouldn't work on Internet Explorer and suggested people install Chrome Frame as a workaround. Google ditched Wave, but not the idea that people need a modern browser to enable Google's advanced online services. Google

One of the reasons I've been skeptical about Google Chrome Frame is that using the software was difficult for one of the prime audiences using the ancient Internet Explorer 6: those who had no choice.

That's because some corporations lock down computers so users don't get the administrative privileges needed to upgrade IE to a version less than a decade old or to install an alternative browser. With that lockdown, it also wasn't possible to install Chrome Frame, which implants Chrome's modern Web page rendering technology into Internet Explorer.

At Google I/O in May, Google announced that the developer version of Chrome Frame could sidestep the lockdown, though, and now the company is publicizing the move more broadly.

"Non-Admin Chrome Frame runs a helper process at startup to assist with loading the Chrome Frame plug-in into Internet Explorer. The helper process is designed to consume almost no system resources while running," said Google programmer Robert Shield in a blog post this week. "Once installed, non-admin users will have the same no-friction experience that admin users of Chrome Frame have today."

Microsoft, which after years lagging in the browser market has a reasonably competitive product in IE9, advises against using the software. The company argues that Chrome Frame exposes people to new security risks. That's a fair point, but anyone still saddled with IE6 has plenty of those already.

Mozilla, too, has expressed concern about Chrome Frame .

Shield said the new approach doesn't sidestep Windows' security limits.

"Chrome Frame's technique simply enables software that the user has chosen to install to load a plugin in IE. The methods it uses work within the OS security boundaries and don't open users up to anything that wasn't already possible," he said in a comment.

The feature still is only in the developer version of Chrome frame, not the better tested beta or stable releases, but Google releases updates to the mature versions frequently. The software is available for download from Google's Web site.

IE6 still is in widespread use, particularly in China and India, but that's changing gradually. Microsoft is heavily promoting its new IE9 browser and actively bad-mouthing IE6, for starts. The more powerful incentive, perhaps, is Web developers' gradually increasing willingness to drop support for IE6, whose slow performance and lack of modern features makes advanced interactive Web sites difficult or impossible.

Google's Internet-based services such as Gmail, Instant search, YouTube, and Google Docs mean it has a lot to gain from better browsers. Unsurprisingly, it's more aggressive in its browser support policies.

It's already announced it doesn't support IE6 for Google Docs, for example, and earlier in June it said Google Docs will stop supporting IE7, Firefox 3.5, and Safari 3.

 

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