Yesterday, Google outed a very bold move of theirs, and then followed up with a statement that, to me, meant even more. We’re talking Google Chrome Frame and Google Wave deciding not to support Internet Explorer.
Google Chrome Frame
It reminds me of when Mozilla, on a smaller scale, offered Screaming Monkey to replace the script engine in Internet Explorer, but it never really took off.
Google’s approach is that if you/the end user has installed the Google Chrome Frame plug-in, all you need to do is add this meta element to your web page/site:
<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1">
The irony here is, of course, that this is the same
meta tag Microsoft suggests to make Internet Explorer use its IE 8 mode or its Compatibility View – having a new option, “real fucking rendering”, so to say, is of course hilarious!
Google Wave not supporting Internet Explorer
They have come to the conclusion that it is such a waste of time and money to try and make it good in Internet Explorer (recognize the feeling?), and that it will be sub-par at best, anyway, so they will not develop for it. Instead, they will recommend to Internet Explorer users to either install the Google Chrome Frame plug-in or to install another web browser which have better support and superior performance (can’t help wonder why Opera are never allowed amongst the web browsers Google list).
Picture taken from Google Wave in Internet Explorer
I’m really on the fence here about Google Chrome Frame. My two basic takes are:
No one will care
The way I see it, most people who use Internet Explorer belong to one of two categories:
- Home users who have no idea what a web browser is, and will not install anything (or, in some cases, everything – different story… )
- Company users with company IT restrictions where it doesn’t matter if it’s a web browser upgrade, new browser or “just” a plug-in – they’re not allowed to install anything.
When it comes to the latter category, my estimate, after having seen a lot of different companies’ IT departments and learned about their values and general stance, is that they will shrug their shoulders and just ignore this. And if people can’t install Google Chrome Frame, and those in charge won’t let them, it’s practically useless and will have no impact.
Part of this, also, is that I believe people, to some reasonable extent, should be able to access any content on the web, and that it is our job as web developers to offer this to them. It’s not their problem if they use a less competent web browser.
When I first heard about Google Chrome Frame, I liked the idea and I know Alex Russell behind it is one of the smartest developers in the world. I am 100% convinced that this has been implemented in an optimal way, especially from a performance perspective, so not having to develop for any Internet Explorer rendering engine sounds like a god-send!
And what will make this matter is not just that Google offers the technology to do it, it’s that they require either the plug-in or a more competent web browser for Google Wave. And if Google Wave comes even close to the potential it has, it will a serious contender to, or at least as popular parallel service as, Facebook and Twitter; people will care since they will want to be able to use it. Just imagine the effect if Facebook had this requirement!
I also think what will decide how this is perceived is that Microsoft have a long business history of locking people in, of business strategies crushing opponents and any chance of competition, and it has led to their extremely poor reputation today. If we look at Google, instead they have just focused on delivering kick-ass services that everyone will want to use, not be forced to. And this is why this might have effect: it’s there to make people’s web browsing lives better, not just an attempt to quench other companies’ offerings.
The effects of this
I feel that we have crossed a line. It’s not just about the regular IE 6 complaining, it’s about companies openly stating that Internet Explorer just doesn’t cut it and that it’s time, from a financial, sanity and best-for-the-web standpoint, to demand more. Microsoft can’t just ignore this, especially with the steady decrease of Internet Explorer users, so the way I see it, they have three options:
- Stop developing Internet Explorer. Just say it was fun while it lasted, but it’s time to face the facts and let go. (this will not happen)
- Come to the conclusion that the rendering engine never have the possibility to match the open-source work of WebKit and Gecko, and instead focus on everything around the content, and integrate one of the open-source rendering engines. (this will not happen either)
- Put full focus into making Internet Explorer 9 the most kick-ass web browser in the world – screw backwards compatibility! I’m sure Microsoft has the financial abilities as well as skilled developers to do it, so it’s “solely” a matter of business strategy (to complement this, they should offer multiple side-by-side versions of Internet Explorer, something I am sure they can technically do, but unfortunately it will never happen)
Either way you see it, Microsoft, the gauntlet has been thrown. Time to step up and act.