Comic Update: IT Job Security vs Google Chrome Frame

September 28, 2009

Google has presented us with yet another gilded offering meant to enhance the web experience for the masses (which appears to be a web experience involving their rendering engine): Google Chrome Frame. If you want to get the sales pitch then watch Alex Russell, one of Google’s engineers, explain it here.

I’ll sum it up for you: Google Chrome Frame is a plug-in for Internet Explorer, that makes it act like Google Chrome. Why would we want this? Well, mainly because IE (especially the older versions), is a wee bit (or a lot) behind on standards and features implementation.

The stated reasons by Google for this act of charity are summed up with making websites cooler for users, and making lives easier for website creators who often have to do some bizarre things (which only rarely involve goats, mayonnaise or unbuttoning pants) to make a website look proper on Internet Explorer. This is especially true with the older versions 6 & 7, which persists on too many people’s computers like relatives that just don’t know when to get the hell out after a holiday celebration. So with this plug-in, users have fun and developers save money. Hooray!

Well, in an ideal world. But in an ideal world I’d be typing this post from my veranda overlooking my palatial, lakeside estate.

The fact is, there’s a reason that IE6 and 7 still exist in the wild in such large numbers. It’s not because Microsoft is attempting to keep them going. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’ve even had programs where they offered to feed people for every download of IE8 they had.

The reason for these legacy browsers is that your grandmother is scared of pop-ups, so hasn’t upgraded a program since the mid-nineties. Also, and more culpably, there’s apparently a large number of major corporations that have IT departments that are unwilling or unable to upgrade from IE6 to something made in the last ten years.

When you think of these misanthropic individuals, claiming to be tech experts while clinging to the halcyon days of FORTRAN, you have to ask yourself this question: are these the sort of people that will let office drone Mr. Smith load a plug-in on the computer in his cubicle?

I’m going to bet that more often than not, the answer is no. Today’s comic explores the conundrum of facing a Luddite at the helm of your corporation’s IT department, guest starring a frustrated Alex Russell. (For fun, watch his Google Chrome Frame video again, and look at his facial expressions. Jeremy Keith sums up what you see here.)

Assuming that somehow you could get the IT departments of America to reverse course, the second requirement for Google Chrome Frame to work is adding a meta-tag to your web pages to support it.

Really.

Didn’t Microsoft try to sell us this a while back, with a resulting mob of violence? Why yes, yes they did. As it doesn’t seem to be widely adopted, I’m not sure I see any reason to expert website creators to flock to Google’s banner to do the same thing. I know I won’t bother.

But frankly, I’d rather serve IE6 a “gracefully” degraded experience anyhow.

Ultimately, for this plug-in to save the world, or at least the web, it needs two very unlikely scenarios to occur. IT departments need to lose their fear of upgrades, and website creators need to start adding tags to their markup to serve a single browser (well, a single plug-in on a single browser). That’s easy… right?

Google, thanks for your honest effort. But I don’t see any compelling evidence that will lead me to believe that you’ll succeed  in turning stubborn people around where Microsoft failed. You can lead a horse to water, but…

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18 Responses to “Comic Update: IT Job Security vs Google Chrome Frame”

  1. I think you are missing some points.

    Chrome Frame allows us to give access to bleeding edge projects* to IE users without requiring an IE user to leave the comfort of their browser. The reason that your grandmother is not installing a new browser could be:

    – she doesn’t know what a browser is
    – she doesn’t want to give up her bookmarks/favorites/etc

    In either case, installing a plugin to her existing browser _IS_ less disrupting than expecting her to change her entire workflow.

    The other factor to consider is: Google may have some deals in the works in which the CF plugin is installed by default on newly purchased computers – just like they’ve inked deals with Sony to make Chrome the default browser.

    Jeff

    * Bleeding-edge projects like Google Wave. Or http://svg-edit.googlecode.com/ which now works in IE6+CF

  2. Kyle, this is my thought exactly. As far as the technology goes, it’s pretty neat. As far as the sustained jabbing at of Internet Explorer (any version), it continues to bring me a bit of sadistic joy. As far as ever seeing this happen legitimately in the wild, I don’t just doubt it, I’d stake all of my “web cred” on never seeing it.

  3. I agree with nearly all of what you’re saying apart “I’m not sure I see any reason to expert website creators to flock to Google’s banner to do the same thing. I know I won’t bother.”

    I don’t think there will be any mob violence. Like I mentioned on Twitter list night the IE8 hoo-haa was mainly over the opt-out nature and the default behaviour, the tag itself was just the poster child.

    Some people will use it, mainly people building cutting edge web apps like 37Signals (who could start “supporting” IE6 again) and Google with their Wave thing (the whole reason this exists in the firsts place.) I expect Apple may adopt it for MobileMe seeing as it uses Webkit – although something tells me that if they went down this route they would (please god no no no) bring out there own plug-in using there own Javascript engine instead of V8.

    Some people wont use it and will do the tango with IE6 and make the necessary sacrificial offerings.

    Thousands of web devs write horrible clunky code to get the Flash plugin working in there browsers.

    And don’t forget – there is already a browser-dependant tag that was designed for a similar purpose and is so widely and willing used that it became a standard and a banner for web standards development…. the

  4. :( The end of my post got chopped off. I was, of course, referring to the Doctype.

  5. I loved today’s comic. Btw, I didn’t notice Alex’s facial expressions until you mentioned it; hilarious!

    Regarding the topic, I agree with you that this is no messiah but at least some IT departments will have this option… we’ll have to see if the change is noticeable in the browser stats a few months in the future :/

  6. @Jeff I’m fairly certain that if my grandmother does not know what a browser is, then she doesn’t know what a plugin is and would be just as likely to not install that as she would be to upgrade Internet Explorer.

  7. @Janea: Really? I think it is still unlikely that a grandmother would download a plugin, but I think it’s certainly MORE likely than installing a browser. If the popup says “To view this content you have to download this plugin” (as with Flash, Silverlight or CF) then that’s certainly better than trying to convince someone to install a whole new application, show them how to invoke it, change their default browser, etc.

  8. The way I see it, Chrome Frame is a tool aimed squarely at IT network admins – not at end users. Companies that stick with IE6 generally are doing it because they’ve coded themselves in to a hole – 5 years ago they wrote (or bought) intranet web applications which only work in IE, and now they can’t upgrade.

    Now they’re facing a new wave of exciting applications (such as Wave) which they can’t use at all, because they’re stuck with IE. Chrome Frame lets them have both – their existing IE6-only apps will continue to work (due to the opt-in nature of the plugin) while they start taking advantage of the enormous cost savings involved in building new stuff against modern rendering engines with HTML 5 technologies.

  9. On one hand, this is great because IE6 support – for a certain percentage of IE6 users – just got a whole lot easier. On the other hand, IT departments just got another reason not to upgrade from IE6. But on the other hand, it’s not REALLY IE6 anymore – it’s an IE6 shell around WebKit. Sort of. I just can’t work out if I like GCF or not! :S

  10. … and then there is the whole accessibility issue.

    Less than 24 hours after Google launched Chrome Frame, the ever-fastidious Steven Faulkner wrote:

    “Google have released Chrome Frame a plugin-in for Internet Explorer “…that seamlessly brings Google Chrome’s open web technologies and speedy JavaScript engine to Internet Explorer.” What it also does is seamlessly bring Google Chrome’s lack of support for assistive technologies to Internet Explorer. If a page is viewed through Google Chrome Frame in Internet Explorer no content is available to the user of assistive technology (AT).”

    http://www.paciellogroup.com/blog/?p=444

    My other fear is that some well-meaning but completely stoopid script-kiddy will try and find some back-door, malware type means of installing Chrome Frame on users systems “to help them”, revisiting shades of the SonyBMG rootkit ‘scandal’ of 2005:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_BMG_CD_copy_protection_scandal

    I’m not saying that Google will do this or advocates this, but if you make the gun and bullets, you have *some* responsibility when the gun goes off.

  11. @Jeff I would say for general end users, both cases are unlikely. How many grandmothers without their geek-savvy grandchildren would even know what Google Frame is, let alone that they need to plug it into their browser?

    I know that my mom wouldn’t be using Chrome if I hadn’t installed it for her and showed her how to use it.

    I think that putting a bandaid on the problem isn’t actually a fix – it’s just a bandaid. Awareness is really what’s needed (and now I’m talking about IE6 as if it’s a terminal disease… wait, isn’t it?).

  12. @Janae: I don’t follow you. Web pages can suggest that you install Google Chrome Frame plugin (and bring you right to the point where you click “Install”). Just as YouTube suggests you install Flash and other sites suggest you install Silverlight. This isn’t anything new.

    I’ll state what I said again: CF helps the bleeding edge web apps that want to deploy to more people. If you don’t rely on SVG, Canvas or other HTML5-type bits of functionality – then CF is overkill.

  13. @Janae: Here’s a link

  14. Man, those were my thoughts exactly when I heard about Chrome frame, the people who need it won’t or can’t install it. On the flip side I can see a lot of lazy web designers using the frame as a crutch not to support old versions of IE anymore.

  15. @Jeff – I’m not precisely missing the points of it. I’m merely well versed in how phobic my grandmother is to any unexpected message on her computer. As it stands, the elderly are the least of the concerns. The real reason for such a plug-in would be corporations, who’ve had software frozen in various states for a long time. I’m not entirely convinced they’ll want to download any plug-in anymore than they’d want to upgrade the browser, but I suppose it’s plausible.

    @Ragdoll – I’d make the same wager. Good thing I don’t have a lot of cred to worry about. ;)

    @Simon – I admit some IT departments might take the plunge because of the advantage of using it for Wave while having their internal websites still run properly. I’m just not convinced that IT departments in such organizations move with any notable alacrity.

    @John – Wow. That’s something I hadn’t even considered. If you’re going to hijack a browser, maybe serving something usable to those with accessibility needs would be in order. You’d think Google would care about this sort of thing, but then, I don’t know their track record on that score.

    @Brad – The crutch bit actually worries me. I hate IE6 with the kind of passion usually reserved for Jets and Sharks getting into a rumble, but to casually add a meta-tag and say “Hey, this counts as support” just rubs me wrong. But somehow I would not be shocked to see that becoming a trend for the lazier among us.

  16. Supposedly, this plug-in also is a security problem for IE: http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=4063

    Back to the drawing board for Google.

  17. @Bill – I’m not entirely sure how secure/insecure CF makes IE (Each company has a different stance), but I’m inclined to believe that at least on IE8 it creates new access points that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

    I doubt Google gives a damn either way. Which is a shame.

  18. Browser features like InPrivate Browsing purportedly don’t work, either. If it was just the rendering engine and the javascript, people could opt in when they wanted to, but the way things are working right now, there are some pretty big tradeoffs.

    Essentially, this isn’t something every IE user should be using, and I think there should be more efforts on Google’s part toward leaving the healthy cells and targeting the cancer. (Er, I’m talking about the businesses stuck on the IE6 intranet.)
    Although, it only works on XP and up. That automatically discounts everyone on 98.

    For those companies who are stuck with IE6 intranets, but who want to get out, this could be a blessing.