Back in September of last year, Google unveiled an early look at an interesting (and rather hilarious) new project: Chrome Frame. What it does is take Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser and basically turn it into Google Chrome via a plug-in. Today, that plug-in has progressed enough that Google is graduating it to full beta status. “We think it’s really stable,” engineer Alex Russell tells us in noting the move to beta.
To use Chrome Frame, all a user has to do is go here and install the plug-in on either IE6, IE7, or IE8 running on Windows 7, Vista, or XP. For developers, it’s even easier to target these users: they just have to include a meta tag in their sites’ code and their pages will start to render in IE (with Chrome Frame installed) just as they would in Chrome itself.
“A bunch of big sites are using the tag,” Russell says. One that he singled out was WordPress.com. Anyone who visits a WordPress.com blog on IE with Chrome Frame installed will see it rendered in the Chrome-way — this includes TechCrunch.
So why would a user install Chrome Frame rather than just install Chrome itself? Well there are a few reasons, but the biggest may be that their place of work requires that they use IE for things such as an intranet. Or maybe they just prefer the configuration layout of IE. Chrome Frame doesn’t alter that at all, it simply makes webpages render as they would using some of the more modern web standards that IE doesn’t yet support. For example, you can watch YouTube videos in HTML5-compatible formats in IE with Chrome Frame.
When I asked about IE9, the latest build of Microsoft’s browser, Russell notes that it’s still more of a cut-down shell at this point so it’s hard to know if Chrome Frame will work with it. More importantly, he cites Microsoft’s much-improved adherence to web standards with IE9 as a reason that Google may not need to have a version of Chrome Frame for IE9. But again, it’s too early to tell.
“The goal of Chrome Frame and crhome is to push the web forward. It’s so that everybody can build their page once,” Russell says.
I also asked about mobile browser support for something like Chrome Frame, but Russell said that was more difficult. Part of the reason is that mobile devices are still constrained by memory (and lack of plug-ins), but he also notes that pretty much all the mobile browsers besides Microsoft’s are using WebKit or moving towards it, ensuring they’ll be standard-compliant. And in the mobile browsing world, Microsoft is a small player, not the force it is on the desktop.
Now that it’s in beta, Russell hopes that the move to a fully stable release will be pretty quick. While Google doesn’t count Chrome Frame users among the 70 million active Chrome users, they’re basically brothers from another mother. And Mama Microsoft can’t be too thrilled about that.