File Under: Browsers, HTML5

Google Updates Chrome Frame Add-On for Internet Explorer

Google has released a significant update to its controversial Chrome Frame, an Internet Explorer plug-in that replaces the default IE rendering engine with the engine that powers Google’s Chrome browser.

Chrome Frame essentially embeds Google’s browser inside any tab or window within Internet Explorer. It forces IE to load a website using the same WebKit rendering engine as Google Chrome, complete with its enhanced JavaScript rendering and support for HTML5 technologies like embedded audio and video.

Previously only available as a “developer preview,” the new version of Chrome Frame has been updated to beta status. Chrome Frame’s underlying code has also been updated to match the Chrome 5 browser, which means Chrome Frame can now handle more HTML5 features like better audio and video playback, Canvas animations, geolocation, Web Workers, WebSocket connections and offline databases.

Chrome Frame now also integrates with IE more closely, meaning that the add-on now works with IE’s InPrivate browsing mode, and that clearing cookies and cache in IE will now also clear out the same elements in Chrome Frame.

If you’re stuck with IE 6 at work, but you want to see the latest and greatest the web has to offer, Chrome Frame makes for a decent solution. The only downside to Chrome Frame is that it will only be triggered on websites that have explicitly enabled it using a special meta tag. Of course, all of Google’s sites are on that short list, so you can at least experience some cool cutting-edge stuff like drag-and-drop in Gmail, geolocation in Google Maps, or real-time communication in Google Wave.

Despite the fact that Chrome Frame does not just take over IE, Google’s add-on is not without some degree of controversy. Back when Chrome Frame was first announced, Mozilla’s vice president of engineering, Mike Shaver, warned against the idea, arguing that the Chrome plug-in for IE muddles the user’s understanding of browser security, and in the end will create more confusion and little benefit.

So far those fears haven’t come to pass, but now that Chrome Frame is a beta release, it may begin to see wider use.

Shaver’s main argument — that simply telling users to switch browsers is far better strategy — is still undeniably the best solution. After all, if you’re savvy enough to know about and install Chrome Frame, you’re most likely savvy enough to just upgrade IE or switch to a better browser. But even the most recent version of Internet Explorer, version 8, doesn’t have the same level of capability as Chrome, and Chrome Frame gives IE users an opportunity to play around on the bleeding edge.

Also, there’s a subset of users who need IE 6 for legacy corporate intranets and applications, but also need to interact with today’s web. Given that several Google services — like Google Apps and Google Reader — no longer support IE 6, the day is fast approaching where Chrome Frame will be the only option for those still locked into IE 6 who want to use the newest web apps.

If you’re one of those people, head over to grab the latest version of Chrome Frame.

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