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Google Chrome Frame ... Chrome performance for IE users!

Google is now offering Internet Explorer users the chance to experience Chrome levels of speed when it comes to JavaScript execution. Is this a clever way to poach users or little more than a tech experiment?

Google is now offering Internet Explorer users the chance to experience Chrome levels of speed when it comes to JavaScript execution. Is this a clever way to poach users or little more than a tech experiment?

The technology, known as Chrome Frame, is, in the words of Google, "an early-stage open source plug-in that seamlessly brings Google Chrome's open web technologies and speedy JavaScript engine to Internet Explorer." It helps make the Microsoft browser better in two respects:

  • Start using open web technologies - like the HTML5 canvas tag - right away, even technologies that aren't yet supported in Internet Explorer 6, 7, or 8.
  • Take advantage of JavaScript performance improvements to make your apps faster and more responsive.

In other words, Chrome Frame is a plug-in for Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8 (to those still using IE 6, shame on you or your IT department) that makes Internet Explorer a better browser.

Clear so far? Good.

But there's a gotcha. It involves web masters adding tags to their web pages:

Enabling Google Chrome Frame is simple. For most web pages, all you have to do is add a single tag to your pages and detect whether your users have installed Google Chrome Frame.

So if you go out and install Chrome Frame today, chances are you won't notice any difference whatsoever. Google hasn't published a list of sites that see a performance boost thanks to Chrome Frame.

Now, on the face of it Chrome Frame seems like interesting technology. After all, it allows users to get a better browser without actually updating their browsers. There's a fair bit of hassle associated with changing browsers, and for the new browser to "stick" the user has to change old habits, and as we all know, old habits die hard.

It's also interesting that Google has chosen to target IE. By releasing a plug-in that in effect makes Internet Explorer better, Google is in effect making a very bold statement - "if you can't fix IE, we will!"

Which leads me on to the next question - why is IE the worst browser in terms of performance and compatibility? I'm having a hard time believing that the IE dev team isn't populated with the same level of talented, geeky high achievers that Google has working on the Chrome team. The issue has to be down to management.

But is Chrome Frame anything more than just political play between Google and Microsoft? Well, I'm having a hard time seeing the plug-in gaining much traction amongst IE users unless Google can really stir web developers and get them to start tagging pages. Maybe if users start seeing download links to Chrome Frame on popular sites then users might start getting hooked.

The truth is that Internet Explorer needs to improve independent of plug-ins. There's no real reason why the most popular browser, one developed by a multi-billion dollar company, lags far behind the rest in almost every test of benchmark you throw at it. I'm not sure if Microsoft has been deliberately crippling Internet Explorer in order to keep us hooked onto desktop apps rather than move to the cloud, or whether the project is simply bogged down by internal issues, but it's something needs to be done now. A plug-in like Chrome Frame might be just what's needed.

Can we have a Chrome Frame plug-in for Firefox next, please?