Google Chrome Frame is leaving the picture

Google is retiring their Chrome Frame add-on, which speeds up certain code in Internet Explorer. Find out why this is happening and what your options are.

Last June Google announced on their Chromium Blog that they will be putting Chrome Frame out to pasture as of January 2014.

Don't feel badly if you haven't heard of Chrome Frame. It's a plug-in for Internet Explorer which lets users display certain web pages via Chrome components such as the JavaScript engine. One purpose of Frame was to bring better speed and performance to older versions of Internet Explorer which some companies might have been forced to use for legacy purposes, such as internal sites which only display properly in IE 6 (Frame also works on newer IE releases, however, demonstrating its versatility). Another purpose was to allow developers to use more modern standards such as HTML5 within these outdated IE versions. A third goal was obviously strategic: to get Chrome out there in people's minds and promote the browser even among those who were committed to using or supporting alternatives.

Why is Google retiring Frame?

This is the interesting element to the equation. Google is known for dropping products which have declining relevance or value, such as Reader, Buzz, and Talk (in fact, the list of retired Google products is long and distinguished). This is simply part of their overall plan to reduce clutter and stay focused. Google pointed out in their announcement about Frame that "the usage of legacy browsers is declining significantly" which shows there is less of a need for Frame.

However, just because something is considered legacy doesn't mean it automatically goes away. Witness the fact that although Microsoft is retiring support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014, Chrome will be supported by Google on Windows XP at least until the end of 2015.

Of course, Windows XP is vastly different from Internet Explorer 6. I myself am working on an XP upgrade project involving software produced by a major financial company which has yet to be fully ported to Windows 7. I am sure I am not alone in these efforts and therefore suspect XP will be around for a long while yet. After all, Jeff Brown of Lieberman Technologies recently pointed out that almost 400 million computers were still running XP as of last month. Those aren't going to just go away next April. Since many Google services are accessed through the browser and Chrome is the one they want users to work in, of course it makes good business sense to facilitate its usage.

There is also the philosophical argument that some people felt Frame was detrimental to progress because it allowed older browsers to live longer. The statistics involving Internet Explorer 6 usage don't seem to support this concept, however, as that browser has largely crumbled and blown away with the wind from many parts of the world, though not all. The interesting site indicates IE 6 possesses 4.6% of the worldwide browser share – just .2% here in the United States!  Internet Explorer 6 does not possess a similar foundation to XP, so it's easy to see why Frame is getting tossed in favor of promoting other efforts like Chrome on XP instead.

Chrome will support Windows XP even if Microsoft won't

Is there anything Frame users should do?

Google says "Probably not much. If you don't prompt your users to install Chrome Frame or opt-in to Chrome Frame, no action necessary." If it's used at your organization you don't have to go around uninstalling it, though it might be a good idea to do so in order to keep people's browsers tidy (it can be uninstalled like any normal program). Frame will still continue to work after next January; it isn't as if it will uninstall itself and shut the lights on January 1st. So, if you are one of the few who are stuck with an older browser and want to try Frame out, it's still available. A better plan, however, would be to check out Google Chrome for Business which provides Legacy Browser support.

Legacy Browser support sort of reverses the equation; rather than running Chrome elements within Internet Explorer you can run Chrome as your primary browser and have it open specific sites in a legacy Chrome browser so they will display properly. There is also an IE add-on which will open required sites directly within the correct Internet Explorer version if for some reason the first option isn't viable. In either scenario Windows group policies (if applicable) can be used to match the URLs with their appropriate browser.

Another one bites the dust

I don't expect to see too much gnashing of teeth as Frame vanishes, but it's interesting to see how Google decides which products to maintain and which ones to drop. Some are outright failures, others become obsolete (like Frame has) and yet more are replaced in favor of something better, much the way Google Talk was sent packing to make way for Hangouts. It's all part of the evolution of technology in which the Darwinian "survival of the fittest" concept eternally applies.

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Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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