Google tries to fix Microsoft's Internet Explorer with Chrome Frame

Google has taken the beta tag off Chrome Frame

Google has taken the beta tag off Chrome Frame, which Google says will let users "access modern web technologies like HTML5 on legacy browsers" – namely, Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8.

Chrome Frame, first unveiled last year, is already used by Google's own services such as Docs, YouTube, and the Orkut social networking site, as well as third-party sites like DeviantART, the Hootsuit Twitter application, and github.

Will Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 finally kill IE6?

With the stable release of Chrome Frame, Google is encouraging developers to adapt their Web applications for the open source IE plugin. With Chrome Frame, developers can use the HTML5 canvas tag and Google's JavaScript engine on IE6, 7 and 8.

"Some of those [HTML5 and JavaScript] capabilities are not supported by Internet Explorer, especially its older versions," Google software engineer Alex Russell says in a video about Chrome Frame.

To reach IE users, developers "often invest lots of time and effort finding workarounds. Or sometimes they limit the functionality of their apps," Russell says. "With Google Chrome Frame, developers can design and build the apps that users want. They can target Google Chrome's advanced HTML engine, its speedy V8 JavaScript runtime and all the other open Web technologies in Google Chrome. This allows them to build apps that are faster and more powerful."

Chrome Frame adds a tag to Web pages to detect whether users have installed Chrome Frame. Users who have the plugin will see the advanced version of the Web page, while those who have not installed it will see the page render normally.

"Existing sites won't break," Russell says.

Google Operating System, an unofficial Google blog, says that "Chrome Frame is especially valuable for enterprise users, so Google added an MSI installer that helps IT administrators deploy the software in a network."

The stable release of Google Chrome Frame comes shortly after the beta release of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9, which is significantly faster than previous versions of IE and has a stripped-down interface reminiscent of Google's Chrome browser.

But IE9 only works on Windows 7 and Windows Vista Service Pack 2, even though Windows XP is still the most widely used operating system.

Google's official Chrome Frame page says the plugin works only on Windows 7, Vista and XP Service Pack 2, seeming to leave out the more up-to-date Service Pack 3. However, a Google spokesman says that seems to be a typo and that Chrome Frame can be installed on XP "Service Pack 2 or greater."

Since Chrome Frame went into beta in June, Google's team worked on reducing the number of crashes and improving startup speeds. "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," Google says.

Google is working on adapting Gmail and Google Calendar to Chrome Frame, with support planned for "the near future."

If you want to test features that might appear in future releases of Chrome Frame, there are still beta and dev versions available for download.Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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Jon Brodkin

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