Google: Chrome Frame ready for prime time

A year after its public debut, Google's project to modernize old versions of Microsoft's browser sheds its beta label. But ultimately, IE9 probably will matter more.

Google's Chrome Frame , a project to retrofit older versions of Internet Explorer with modern browser features, has reached "stable" status, which the company believes means it's ready for widespread use. (Chrome Frame is available for download from Google and CNET Download.com.)

"After months of polishing, Google Chrome Frame now starts three times faster on Windows Vista and Windows 7 and the most common conflicts with other plug-ins have been fixed," said programmers Tomas Gunnarsson and Robert Shield in a blog post Wednesday. Chrome Frame emerged publicly one year ago as a developer preview and graduated to beta status in June, and the programmers promised further improvements in the future as Chrome Frame gets on the six-week release cycle of the standalone Chrome browser.

Loathing for IE6 is universal among Web developers who must reckon with its lack of standards support, sluggish JavaScript support, and less secure design; Microsoft is among those who fervently want to see it replaced. Chrome frame is a curious approach to the problem, though: given abundanct free browser alternatives--including two other major IE releases that arrived since IE6's 2001 debut--it's not clear why somebody would choose an IE brain transplant over just installing a new browser.

Another hurdle for Chrome Frame is that Web site operators must support it by adding a line of code that Chrome Frame looks for when the page is loaded.

IE6 shipped with Windows XP, an operating system that's still widely used, especially in corporate environments where internal applications sometimes don't work with other browsers. Even those who'd like to dump IE6 often can't because their systems are locked down by corporate IT departments.

Microsoft IE9 logo
Chrome Frame has tweaked Microsoft's nose, but it's likely Microsoft's IE9 will be more influential in the long run when it comes to modernizing browsers.

Google is trying to overcome that barrier, though. "We've set aggressive goals for future releases," Gunnarsson and Shield wrote. "We're working on making start-up speed even faster and removing the current requirement for administrator rights to install the plug-in," which would help sidestep IT prohibitions. And for IT departments that want to specifically add Chrome Frame into the mix, Google offers a Chrome Frame installer file for administrators.

Microsoft doesn't care for Chrome Frame, which it says exposes users to new network attack possibilities, but it does want to be rid of IE6.

To that end, Microsoft released its IE9 beta last week with a large collection of competitive new browser features. Microsoft's browsers have languished in recent years, but it's abundantly clear now that browser development is a top priority, and however much trouble Microsoft has had becoming an Internet company, it knows its way around Windows software.

IE9 has some powerful advantages. Microsoft is integrating it tightly with Windows plumbing and can take advantage of Windows PC sales as a means of distribution. And IE, though its share has slipped dramatically in recent years, remains the most widely used browser.

It seems more likely that IE9 will prove more influential in the big picture than Chrome Frame in modernizing Web browsing. But there's no doubt Google has injected new energy into Web development.

One new piece of evidence: Chris Wilson, a Microsoft programmer who began working on IE in 1995, is becoming a Google developer advocate. Wilson not only rose to be IE's platform architect, but also served as the World Wide Web Consortium's co-chairman for the group standardizing HTML , albeit somewhat reluctantly.

"I'm very excited to work for a company that invests so much in making the Web platform better for developers and consumers," Wilson said in a blog post Tuesday.

 

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