Sophisticated browsers that adapt alongside web standards are critical to the most collaborative and immersive web experiences. And over the past five years, creative professionals have harnessed these capabilities pushing the limits of what we expect from a promotion, brochure site, or web app.
A day will soon arrive when the headaches of cross-browser compatibility will be considered tall tales, or perhaps more accurately, scary stories. Every major corporation will regularly upgrade their corporate computers to the latest version, and every person on the planet will enjoy the latest the web has to offer. But that day is not today, nor this year. We still live in a time when graceful degradation is the law of the land.
Unless, of course, you used Chrome Frame.
The vast majority of the world never knew Chrome Frame. In fact, even amongst web insiders, this post may be an introduction.
So, what was Chrome Frame?
Chrome Frame was an Adobe Flash-like plugin that turned Internet Explorer into Google’s Chrome under the hood. It could be installed on any computer in any environment and was a great little workaround that freed your corporate browser from the antiquated rendering and functionality of Internet Explorer. It only needed to be installed once, and even then it would only be triggered by specific websites. It was unendorsed by Microsoft — and not surprisingly — its reception was lukewarm in most IT departments. However, within the interactive industry, it was a silver bullet in cases where clients demanded identical functionality, without compromise, across all platforms and all browsers.
That is not to say we used Chrome Frame frequently. As interactive professionals, we’re tasked with helping our clients understand their audience and their needs, and then lining that up with a vision. As such, we very rarely run into circumstances where a digital experience can’t gracefully degrade across platforms. And ultimately, no matter how we packaged or presented it, Chrome Frame was a plug-in. Ten years ago, browser plug-ins may have been par for the course, but these days they’re rare and unwelcome.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Now, it appears Google is ready to sunset its pet project. Will it be missed? Truthfully, not likely. In Google’s own words:
“Today, most people are using modern browsers that support the majority of the latest web technologies. Better yet, the usage of legacy browsers is declining significantly and newer browsers stay up to date automatically, which means the leading edge has become mainstream.”
While this generalization may be a bit premature, it reflects a more important point: No matter the current landscape, the audience should be a part of planning from day one. And sometimes that means compromise.
If an end-user can’t (or doesn’t want to) update their browser, then their expectations of interactive are already lower than most. If they’re locked into an antiquated corporate browser from 9 to 5, then they’re accustomed to a web dichotomy. On the other hand, if your target audience is young, there may be little if any reason to spend money supporting older browsers. Every case is unique and you may be surprised after doing the math.
Our leading case for Chrome Frame wound up proving this. After developing a robust web app for a large client using modern standards, we decided to opt for Chrome Frame over graceful degradation to keep budget under control. This client had a limited install base, and the app was intended for internal use only. Months later, we looked back at usage reports to find only one user had fired up Internet Explorer.
So fare-thee-well Chrome Frame. We hardly knew ye. As noble your intentions, you couldn’t save the stragglers from the accelerating pace of the web and not much will change now that you’re leaving. We will continue to deliver a range of experiences, but you will be remembered as an ambitious experiment — sadly targeted at the wrong crowd.