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Google Chrome Frame Turns Internet Explorer into "Good Browser"

Google Chrome Frame is a free plug-in for Internet Explorer. Some advanced web apps, like Google Wave, use Google Chrome Frame to provide you with additional features and better performance.

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.

Google Chrome Frame is the first realistic solution that addresses the problem of Internet Explorer 6.0. It allows businesses users to retain IE for legacy systems but provide enhanced features in new applications. I’ve been testing Chrome Frame for the past few days and I’m impressed.

Finally, someone had found a way to get Internet Explorer users up to speed on the Web. Microsoft, on the other hand, is warning IE users that it does not recommend installing the plugin. What does the company have against the plugin? It makes Internet Explorer less secure.

The Real Truth:

So, just how much of a performance boost do you get in Internet Explorer when you install and make use of Chrome Frame?

Quite a lot, as it turns out!

I decided to take Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 8 and see what different Chrome Frame made when running the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test. For comparison I also ran the test in Google Chrome 3 browser.

The results are staggering:

Bottom line:

  • IE7 using Chrome Frame is about 40 times faster at running through the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test than IE7 alone.
  • IE8 using Chrome Frame is about 10 times faster at running through the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test than IE8 alone.
  • Using Chrome Frame, IE7 and IE8 are almost as fast as Google Chrome itself at processing JavaScript.

Very impressive stuff indeed.

As to resource usage while running Chrome Frame, I didn’t see any noticeable increase in CPU or RAM usage. In fact, right now I can’t see any downside to Chrome Frame.

Chrome Frame Installation

Installing Chrome Frame is as easy as installing Flash, the PDF viewer, or any other IE plugin. The full 10MB application is downloaded and installed within a few minutes. The process is quick, painless, and does not require a browser restart.

Chrome Frame is available for IE6, IE7 and IE8. I’m not convinced many IE8 users will need it; speed and rendering problems are rarer in that browser. However, the plugin will allow developers to use HTML5, CSS3, canvas and SVG features that would have been technically impossible before.

Under the Hood

Chrome Frame installs as a Browser Helper Object; a Windows DLL that extends IE functionality. BHOs are a standard method used to add toolbars and other plugins so Google is using Microsoft’s own documented platform. If Microsoft wanted to kill Chrome Frame, it would be technically difficult to achieve without affecting other plugins.

BHOs are also exploited by malware and virus developers. Microsoft fixed this issue in XP SP2 by sandboxing BHO code and introducing the Add-on Manager which allows users to disable unscrupulous code. Chrome Frame therefore requires IE6 on XP SP2 as a minimum.

Speed and Stability

Confusingly, ComputerWorld are reporting that IE8 runs 10 times faster with Chrome Frame. What they really mean is the Chrome Webkit engine is 10 times faster than IE’s Trident engine when compared in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark suite. SunSpider is not a real-world test of page rendering speed and nor does Chrome Frame effect IE’s default speed.

However, Chrome-rendered pages are noticeably faster and it allows you to run IE-incompatible code such as the excellent JSNES JavaScript NES emulator.

Chrome Frame is still in beta and there are issues. For example, I experienced rendering problems in GMail, although it’s fine in both IE6 and the Chrome browser.

For Developers: Making Your Pages Work with Google Chrome Frame

Note that Google’s plug-in, once installed by the user, will not make Canvas simply just work across all sites. To making your pages work with Google Chrome Frame, you need to insert this META tag to the top of the page (HTML head section):

<meta equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1">

When Google Chrome Frame detects this tag it switches automatically to using Google Chrome's speedy WebKit-based rendering engine. It's that easy. For users, installing Google Chrome Frame will allow them to seamlessly enjoy modern web apps at blazing speeds, through the familiar interface of the version of IE that they are currently using.


Chrome Frame is still undergoing development and there are technical issues to iron out so I could not recommend it at this stage. However, the future is promising. Corporations and private users may be unable or unwilling to upgrade their browsers, but installing an unobtrusive plugin is significantly easier.