Mozilla has expressed concerns about Google's Chrome Frame project, a plugin that brings Chrome's rendering engine to Internet Explorer. Could it fragment the Web? We're not convinced.
Despite the benefits that the plugin offers to end users and the Web development community, other browser vendors have some concerns about the implications. Mozilla and Microsoft have raised some valid questions about potential problems with Chrome Frame, but we're still not convinced that the plugin is a net loss for the Web.
Mozilla boss Mitchell Baker argues that injecting an alternate rendering engine into IE will create confusion and disrupt the browser's basic functionality in key ways. Even worse, she fears that it will lead to the proliferation of site-specific rendering plugins that will fragment the Web. Mozilla VP of engineering Mike Shaver also expressed concern, citing the multitude of problems created by existing browser plugins. In an interview with ComputerWorld, Shaver expressed concern that Google might even bring Chrome Frame to Firefox.
Although the scope of these plugins is significantly smaller than Chrome Frame, and they would theoretically be less disruptive to browser functionality, they still create many of the same problems and represent an equal contribution to what Baker disapprovingly describes as "browser soup." At what point does the breakage inherent in the plugin model outweigh the advantages of introducing improved support for modern standards-based, open Web features?
Worth worrying about?
I was somewhat puzzled by Shaver's comments about the possibility that Google might bring Chrome Frame to Firefox. He doesn't know if Google will choose to make Chrome Frame available for Firefox users in the future, and Google has done nothing to indicate that it will.
Shaver is concerned that Google could use Chrome Frame to push its own non-standard features or standards-based features that aren't widely implemented into Firefox and IE, thus creating the risk of Google lock-in by encouraging developers to code to features that aren't available elsewhere. But Google already has a plugin for bringing non-standard Web features to Firefox: Gears.
Gears allows Google to prototype new Web features and make those features accessible in its own Web applications. Google has largely used Gears as a proving ground for features that it wants to introduce as future Web standards. Mozilla has done similar things, like offering plugins for its early implementation of WebGL, which was later moved natively into the browser as it gained multi-vendor support through the standards process.
It's worth noting that Shaver is an enthusiastic supporter of Gears. If Google wants to experimentally introduce new non-standard features in Firefox, it can continue doing so with Gears while using Chrome Frame to push those features into IE along with support for modern Web standards. Mozilla has never objected to Gears even though it exhibits the same sort of problems as Chrome Frame, disrupting IE features such as Web Slices and Accelerators.
Ultimately, I don't disagree with Mozilla's underlying assertion that Chrome Frame breaks certain features of IE in ways that are undesirable. But those issues could potentially be remedied to an extent that would make Chrome Frame a tolerable solution. It's possible to identify where breakage happens and make the user experience more seamless. For example, one of the current problems is that Chrome Frame ignores the user's accessibility font settings; that's fixable.
I also strongly agree with Mozilla's assertion that the Web would be better off if we could encourage users to install a better browser rather than running a better renderer as a plugin. I don't think that the two approaches are mutually exclusive, however. There is no reason why Google can't encourage people to upgrade while providing Chrome Frame as a solution for those few who can't or won't. The plugin could even be helpful as a tool for gradually transitioning users to the full Chrome browser.
Browser vendors are all painfully aware of how plugins can degrade the user experience, so it's understandable that Chrome Frame would face a lot of trepidation. It's certainly worthwhile for Mozilla to be bringing up these issues, and I hope (and suspect) that Google values the feedback.
Still, I'm not convinced that the problems with Chrome Frame outweigh the fragmentation and deleterious effects that legacy versions of Internet Explorer continue to have on the market. Are you?
Source: ars technica