Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chrome Frame: Love It Or Hate It

Google ChromeImage via Wikipedia

Google has clearly struck a nerve among browser makers with the announcement of Chrome Frame. Microsoft was awfully quick to down play any thoughts about installing Chrome as a plugin for IE considering it refers to the WebKit's market share as a "rounding error". Mozilla has also recently become vocal about putting down any notion of a browser-in-a-browser solution. This is all quite bizarre as both of these players are big into browser plugins of some form or another. Microsoft with its alternative Silverlight application engine and Mozilla, which acquired its market share through extensible plugins of its own.

It is actually quite common to have multiple rendering engines within the same browser: flash, silverlight, and Java being the most obvious, but there is more. IE has had a number of browser plugins in the past, including Mozilla ActiveX Control and Google's SVG plugin. IE8 ships with multiple rendering engines that get triggered based on HTML tags or user actions. Nescape 7, although short lived, shipped with both the Gecko and IE rendering engines. Mozilla has previously encouraged this type of action in the past, with Google's ExCanvas and Mozilla's, now inactive, Screaming Monkey initiative. Today Mozilla still makes IE available as a Firefox plugin.

I think it is ridiculous to ask users to only use particular browsers for particular websites. Choosing the best available rendering engine should be the choice of the website authors and I would welcome a mega-browser that seamlessly switches between Gecko, Trident, WebKit, and Presto based on the preferred engine of the author. More precisely, I trust website authors will choose standard compliant engines more then I trust users to choose standard compliant browsers.

I find Mozilla's reaction particularly interesting as it comes at a time when I find myself, an old Gecko fan, looking at WebKit more seriously. Recently in a project, due to an old outstanding Gecko issue, I had to put Firefox support on hold while Trident, Presto and WebKit continued to operate without much trouble.

I know it is true with IE, but perhaps it is true with Mozilla as well, that they view the engine as just something a browser needs and not a feature in and of itself. Perhaps I have been wrong all along and XUL is actually Mozilla's doom.

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