Google Desecrates Microsoft, Sort of…

Posted on 23 September 2009

Anyone that has spent any time at all doing web based development knows the pains caused by Microsoft Internet Explorer, specifically Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).  We live in a world today where the pace of technology is unbelievable.  It is estimated that had nearly 25 million world wide unique visitors in August 2009, not bad for a company formed in 2006.  Facebook has over 300 million active users, and it was developed in the spring of 2004.  That is a lot of web traffic, in fact Facebook estimates 6 billion minutes of traffic to their website alone per day.  And per Google Analytics, my websites get about 15-18% of their daily traffic via IE6, I’ve read and suspect this number to be a little low with the actual closer to 20-25% market share – as my user base doesn’t seem to be corporate based.

In my former life as a VP of software development for a development/consulting company, we estimated that we had to carry 25%-30% extra developers, because of IE6.  That means out of every 1o developers we had, 25%-30% of those man hours went into “dealing with” IE6.  We had a number of screens that we replicated in our applications, one screen utilized by IE6 and the other version utilized by the rest of the browsers.  Granted, the company was 100% focused on large enterprise customers as the user base, which has been slow to adopt IE7 and IE8 as their corporate browser of choice.

For those not familiar with software development, the vast majority of developers develop software using the Firefox browser.  The browser has a number of developer tools (mainly 3rd party add-ons) that substantially increase the productivity of the developer.  And by now you’ve probably deduced that not all browsers are equal. IE6 has a lot of known bugs that were just never fixed by Microsoft and it just wasn’t built to utilize many of today’s technology like off-line capability, CSS/Layouts, and a good JavaScript engine.  So, over time, developers hacked their way around IE6 (and to some degree IE7 & IE8) as it couldn’t be ignored even though it should have been put to bed.

Did you know?

IE6 was released in August 2001, here are a few major events that have taken place since then:

  • 9/11 happened two weeks after the release of IE6
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day was the top grossing movie of the year
  • Life House – Hanging by a Moment was the top song of 2001
  • Enron scandal starts to unfold
  • 13 months later Firefox 0.1 released (most importantly they are now at version 3.5.3)
  • I’m 8 years older than I used to be

Introducing a smack down, corporate America style.  Google has release a beta version of Google Chrome Frame, an application that has to be installed on the computer.  But what it does, via a single meta-tag in the code, is serve up the application inside of IE6, IE7, or IE8 utilizing Google’s Chrome engine.  So in essence, Google has made Microsoft’s browsers work.

I gave it a quick test drive and it seems to work quite well, granted it wasn’t thorough testing.  The image below is an image of my Wyoming Road Trip site in native IE6 with all of the IE6 “hacks” removed.  What you can’t tell is that I’m attempting to mouse over the CSS driven menu bar.

Native IE6 Mouse Over CSS Driven Menu Bar

Native IE6 Mouse Over CSS Driven Menu Bar

You may have to click on the images to see them full size to see the quality differences.  Notice the quality of the images in native IE6, the blue “shading” or whatever it is above the menu bar, and the twitter image without legs.

Now lets look at the same image also in IE6, running Google’s Chrome Frame.

IE6 Using Google Chrome Frame

IE6 Using Google Chrome Frame

Notice a few things, the first is that the IE logo on the top left corner of the screen is replaced by Chrome’s logo – very nice touch.  Also notice how much more crisp the images look, no more blue “shading” above the menu bar, the menu bar actually works when you mouse over it, and the twitter bird has legs!

I can’t even begin to express how cool this is, and the impact it COULD have.  I fear however, that it will not have the impact that one would hope for.  The only reason that IE6 has even 1% market share let alone the 20+% it does have, is once again, because many enterprises have not moved to IE7 or IE8 for various reasons.  They usually state security and training issues, I call BS on both of those excuses.  But the problem is that there are still a lot of enterprise users that don’t have access on their desktop or laptop to install software – hell if they could they would be running IE8, Chrome, or Firefox in the first place.  So while Google has successfully slapped Microsoft in the face, will the adoption of this frame really make a substantial difference, or just be another distraction for developers to worry about?  I hope the former, what do you think?

5 responses to Google Desecrates Microsoft, Sort of…

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wyoming Road Trip. Wyoming Road Trip said: Google Chrome Frame = Awesome. Now if only enterprises running IE6 would allow installation of it. […]

  • Frank says:

    It’s a nice concept and all, but I don’t think this will work at all. The reason why these companies are so draconian and refuse anything but IE6 won’t change the fact that we have this problem in the first place. This program won’t get much tread. In fact, this program would never be approved by these draconian companies any more than trying to get IE8 installed.

    The best thing is to put IE6 out to pasture. Force IE6 people out. It’s harsh, but it would give a “wake up and smell the roses” to the IT managers. Move with the times, or be cut off.

    • Travis Todd says:

      I would agree with you, and there are actually groups out there that have tried their best to put IE6 in a grave. One of the reasons IT managers are in a pickle is because over the past 8 years they have had a number of web based custom applications built for their companies using IE6 as the standard – and the path of least resistance is to avoid the upgrade.

      The real one to blame is the debacle with Vista. Had Vista not been such a POS, this IE6 thing would be a thing of the past. Maybe Windows 7 will be the savior, I’ve not seen it but have heard better things about it.

  • Sweet River says:

    Really there are a lot of things to comment on here.
    I guess first of all developers have such issue with IE6 because of their nature of being a developer. By nature, good, developers are always look to new technology for a better mouse trap. Most use the latest software, computers and so on. All of these things are things that you want your developers to do and it makes them better and faster at their jobs, but in doing so I think it’s easy to lose sight of their purpose which is solely to make applications for their clients to use on their equipment. I don’t think this struggle against technology or better yet away from bad technology is something that will ever go away it’s a little bit of the nature of the beast.
    The other issue is Big Business or The Man. Interestingly enough I think you touched on this earlier in your blog about “The Incentive Behind Pricing”. The key word being “Incentive”, in my experience most decision makers at companies don’t really have a very good grasp of technology. Don’t get me wrong some are very savvy but I believe the majority is not. So if you work for a company as a manager who isn’t very technically savvy then what is your incentive to change? How is switching from IE6 to Chrome or Firefox going to make my employee’s 10% more productive? These can all be tough arguments especially if the manager doesn’t understand the concept in the first place.
    If I look backwards for a solution I remember the days when I worked for a small internet service provider (ISP) and I would get help calls from customers who used our internet service to connect to the internet but for the life of them could not understand why they didn’t have to sign on to anymore they just weren’t savvy enough to understand AOL was not the internet. If I try to apply that to my web based application today I think it would work something like this. Find a client that wants to use your service They can sign up for your service but they also have to download and install your client software. Ha Ha! Guess what that is? Yep Chrome, Firefox or any other browser of your choosing with the homepage set to Maybe even a bookmark on their desktop that says I like this parallel solution to the issue. By using an alternate browser you optimize your applications performance and by selecting a browser other then IE you do not jeopardize any legacy applications. Maybe I have high hopes but it just might help the technological evolution of your clients.
    Wow I really didn’t expect to write that much.

    • Travis Todd says:

      Sweet River!
      Long time, no speak… How is your Afrikaans coming along?

      Interesting idea you have there, you have to admit that most people are a little more savvy about all thing internet & computers than they were 5-10 years ago. I suppose if there was a way to block IP ranges by browser type this would make IT managers happy?

      None the less, to me it is stupid that IT organizations don’t just role out Chrome or Firefox. If you have applications that require IE6, put bold red text on the login screen that says such, or detect the browser in the program and do something similar. They alway point the finger at “training”, but honestly who has ever been trained to use the internet or one of the various browsers?

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