Google Chrome Frame

So the web-design world is a-buzz with news of the Google Chrome Frame, which in a nutshell is a plugin for Internet Explorer which replaces the IE rendering engine with Google’s Chrome rendering engine (based on the open source WebKit also used by Apple in Safari and Palm in Web OS). The upshot is that that old dog IE (and even the latest version is a dog) runs/renders faster (in the case of Javascript, significantly faster) and supports more standards (existing and emerging) than native IE.

It works with Internet Explorer 6, 7, or 8 and brings those browsers up to near ‘first-class’ citizens in the browser world, a massive boon for developers and users alike.

I was reading Jim Ray’s More technical details about Google Chrome Frame and there were two sections which I thought were particularly interesting:

I also got curious about the User Agent strings that Chrome Frame embedded inside of IE might return. If you’ve spent any time with User Agent strings, you might expect a certain amount of schizophrenia, depending on where you look for them, either on the server side or the client side. I wrote a quick PHP script to echo out the User Agent as PHP sees it and to echo out the User Agent as javascript sees it. The server-side detection sees the browser as IE, with one tiny exception: it adds a string “chromeframe” to the User Agent that you could easily look for and act on. The client-side detection sees the browser as Google Chrome — the exact same User Agent as when you visit the page using the Chrome browser.


It turns out there’s a sort of irony here — BHO’s were introduced in IE4 by Microsoft during the height of the browser wars with Netscape as a way of allowing developers to extend IE itself, so that the browser could become a development platform; sort of a precursor to Firefox’s Add-ons and XUL platform. Of course, with IE as your platform, you’d want to write your web pages so that they’d render in IE and use all of the proprietary IE extensions that Netscape didn’t implement, or so the conspiracy goes. It turns out that BHO’s were most popular as a way to add toolbars — like the ones from Alexa and Google’s own search toolbar — and as a vector for writing viruses. Microsoft tried to fix this in IE 6 SP2 by sandboxing BHO’s and including an Add-on Manager that would let users scope out and uninstall any BHO’s that had installed themselves with nefarious purposes. This is also why you need to have at least Windows XP SP2 to use Chrome Frame, to support Chrome’s own security sandbox.

The first is of interest because it means that we should be able to get a good feel for the adoption rate of the Chrome Frame in stat tracking – Analytics, Mint or the like as well as server log analysis – and that’s a great thing, as without an accurate idea of how widely it is getting used we would have great difficulty deciding at what point the ‘native’ Internet Explorer versions could be reasonably ignored for clients on a case-by-case basis.

The second is just funny in a ‘hoisted with their own petard’ kind of way.

One small concern

There seems to me to be three main areas of people who use Internet Explorer:

  • People who are not ‘expert users’ and are happy enough with Internet Explorer or are not aware of the alternatives.
  • People stuck with IE in a corporate environment – they may not like it but corporate/IT policy dictates they have to use it.
  • Microsoft superfans – people who won’t run anything not out of Redmond on principle. I’ve never met anyone like this but it’s a big world – there’s got to be some real weirdos out there. In all these cases I can’t see why or how they would install a plugin to make Internet Explorer better rather than just running a better browser (Firefox, Safari, Opera or Chrome).

More info

Some more technical info at Abel Avram’s Running HTML 5 Inside IE with Google Chrome Frame along with Jim Ray’s great article, linked in the third paragraph (above).

Written by , Wednesday 7th October 2009



October 7, 2009


btw, For your first example of “Small Concern 3” speak to Ollie :)

I can’t honestly beleive there’s a market for this frame, more than a publicity stunt, as you said, none of those three are going to use it when there’s free, great, browsers out there.


October 7, 2009

Indeed – or just not be able to use it – people in the second group might go for it but if they aren’t allowed to use another browser they sure as hell aren’t going to be able to install a plugin.


November 8, 2009

Matt – Oi!!

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