Google Chrome Frame

03 February 2010

Yesterday I went over to The Werks to listen to Remy enlighten some of the Flash Brighton gang on what to expect from HTML5 in the coming months and years. The subject of Chrome Frame came up, with the general consensus being that it wasn't really going to have an impact on the number of people browsing with IE, specifically IE 6. I take a different view on that question, and here's why.

An email from Google appeared in my inbox only a few days ago informing of the impending drop of support for IE 6 on the Google Apps product line. Google don't want to engineer for IE 6, and they've clearly made a decision that with Chrome Frame in the wild they are now at a point where they don't have to.

Chrome Frame is a strategic move which allows them to drop IE 6 support in some of their core products quicker than they would otherwise be able to. It gives them an answer to users (mostly likely their enterprise customers) that can't upgrade from IE 6 for whatever reason. Presumably the potential loss of revenue from those customers must now weigh in less than the cost of engineering for IE 6.

As a bonus, Chrome also patches some of the HTML5 and CSS 3 support that's appearing in Webkit into the more modern versions of IE, which are still lagging behind.

The key point is that Chrome Frame paved the way for Google to make this move, and Google dropping IE 6 support is significant in terms of influencing people to move on from it, either by installing Chrome Frame, or by upgrading to a newer version of IE or a competing browser. It might be difficult to quantify this significance, but where Google lead the way, consumers and competitors tend to follow.

I believe that's one of two main driving forces behind Google developing and releasing Chrome Frame: it frees them up from the pain of IE 6. The other reason is is that it allows their product teams to focus on the future technologies of HTML5 and CSS 3 now. To get ahead of the game. To discover new ways of using that technology. And to build the next generation of web applications while the rest of the world sits around fixing double margin float bugs.