Why Google Chrome Frame Makes Mozilla Firefox Folks Uneasy

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-03

Why Google Chrome Frame Makes Mozilla Firefox Folks Uneasy

Add Mozilla to the list of vendors exasperated by Google Chrome Frame, a plug-in to essentially let users run Google's Chrome Web browser in the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser container. 

Google released Chrome Frame Sept. 22, arguing that IE does not adequately support newer Web technologies such as HTML5 or offer the performance boost associated with JavaScript.

The plug-in launched one week before Google's extended preview of Google Wave, which leverages HTML5. Microsoft protested the technology, arguing that it breaks  IE 8's privacy features and poses a security threat.

Mitchell Baker, former Mozilla CEO and current chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation, and Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice president of engineering, both lamented Google's release of Chrome Frame in blog posts. The browser experts, who helped Mozilla's Firefox browser reach 23.8 percent market share largely at the expense of IE, are concerned Chrome Frame will further muddy the already cloudy waters of a fragmented browser market.

Baker worried that once a Web browser has fragmented into multiple rendering engines, it's very hard to manage information across Websites. Chrome Frame, she said, will make the Web even more unknowable and confusing. Baker noted

"Image you download Chrome Frame. You go to a website. What rendering engine do you end up using? That depends on the website now, not on you. And if you end up at a website that makes use of the Chrome Frame, the treatment of your passwords, security settings, personalization, all the other things one sets in a browser is suddenly unknown. Will sites you tag or bookmark while browsing with one rendering engine show up in the other? Because the various parts of the browser are no longer connected, actions that have one result in the browser you think you're using won't have the same result in the Chrome browser-within-a-browser.

"At first glance this looks like it might be a useful option, offering immediate convenience to website developers in alleviating a very real pain. But a deeper look reveals significant negative repercussions."

Shaver echoed Microsoft when he noted running Chrome Frame within IE bogs down private browsing mode or Microsoft's other security controls.

"The user's understanding of the Web's security model and the behavior of their browser is seriously hindered by delegating the choice of software to the developers of individual sites they visit," Shaver wrote. "It is a problem that we have seen repeatedly with other stack plug-ins like Flash, Silverlight and Java, and not one that I think we need to see replayed again under the banner of HTML5."

Analysts Weigh In on Chrome Frame

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said Baker and Shaver have valid concerns about the complexity, fragmentation and security issues Chrome Frame brings.

"Technologies like Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX, for all their great features or abilities, already provide the same level of confusability about what exactly is rendering a Web page or executing an application, and what exactly are the security or privacy implications. For example, is there any contract between all these plug-ins to respect a user's privacy settings? Ultimately this is an issue that can only be resolved by better definition and adherence to standards. I am afraid the plug-in wars will get worse before they get better. ... To some extent a vision of the messy world with browsers inside browsers might be exactly what might push these vendors to the standard table with more passion."

However, Shaver has more personal concerns about what Chrome Frame means as well. Though Google has only offered the plug-in for IE, Shaver told Computer World he is concerned Google may create a Chrome Frame plug-in for Firefox.

But Forrester Research's Sheri McLeish said neither Microsoft not Mozilla may have to worry. Most enterprises are still using some version of IE, so she doubts the Chrome Frame plug-in will be widely adopted anytime soon, unless there is a specific, strong business case that can be made for it.

"There's no doubt Mozilla and Microsoft are chagrined by this move by Google," McLeish told eWEEK. "Google's rationale is that its apps require the rendering capabilities of the Chrome Frame to perform as intended. Given its inability so far to ratchet up adoption for Chrome, this seems to be a strategy to exert control and at least ensure usability of its Google Wave and Apps within alternate browsers."

Gartner's Ray Valdes said Baker and Shaver failed to address key distinctions between IE 6, an outdated browser largely incompatible with many current Web technologies, and IE 8, a modern browser with worthwhile security and privacy features.

"By glossing over this distinction, they are saying that Chrome-within-IE is not that useful," Valdes told eWEEK. "That is a valid point for the IE 8 scenario but not for the IE 6 scenario. IE 6 users can definitely benefit, both in terms of security and in terms of user experience."

Meanwhile, Shaver acknowledges that Chrome Frame is a bid by Google to gain more market share with Chrome. His advice? Just get more developers to get their Website users to use Chrome.

"The user would be educated about the benefits of an alternate browser, would understand better the choice they were making, and the kudos for Chrome's performance would accrue to Google rather than to Microsoft," he said.

Shaver, of course, writes from where the grass is greener. Mozilla whittled down IE's market share to 65 percent in five years. Chrome commands south of 3 percent of the market after one year.


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