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September 25, 2009

Framed: Should Microsoft, and Would Apple... Fight Back vs. Google?

Wednesday's announcement from Google that they were releasing a Web browser plugin called Chrome Frame for Internet Explorer gave IE users many of the same core elements they would receive by surfing with the native Chrome browser - namely support for HTML 5, and massively improved JavaScript performance. Google's goal has largely been seen as setting the stage for Google Wave, working to get Web surfers off older, outdated browsers, like Internet Explorer 6, and providing them a richer experience. But this process, as noble as it may be, has me wondering if its competition, Microsoft, won't be finding a way to shut it down. After all, I am pretty sure Apple would if given the same choice.

Many across the tech Web are lauding the move as easier for Web consumers to perform than a rip and replace strategy to ditch IE and turn to Chrome, despite its clear benefits. After all, it's said users are comfortable with plugins like Adobe Flash, and Chrome Frame would just be a simple plugin. But isn't this a lot more like what Palm did in faking us all out by pretending its Pre mobile phone was really an iPod, in order to gain access to iTunes?

While Google didn't make any noise about looking to similarly decapitate Safari, and put Chrome in Apple's browser, there are definitely times when I find my preferred browser lagging behind the most-popular surfing options. Even Google's Toolbar, which includes the new SideWiki we discussed on Wednesday, does not have a native version for Safari, but maybe, if Google found a way to push Chrome in Safari, it would.

Matt Mastracci, co-founder of DotSpots and a sharp Web developer, reminded me this evening that Safari "isn't built to be extensible", making Toolbar integration or Chrome Framing a real challenge, but even if they could somehow pull it off, I don't see Steve Jobs and Cupertino sitting idly by. No doubt the next system update, or Safari point release, would knock it out of the sky, the same way they have updated iTunes in the past to stop jailbreaking of iPhones, or the way Microsoft posts Windows Updates to stop malicious code from hitting their user base.

Microsoft is already whining and saying that running Chrome Frame as a plug-in increases the potential for bad code and malicious scripts to hit customers. (See: Microsoft: Google Chrome Frame Makes IE Less Secure) It is not my tendency to jump on Redmond's side, and I certainly don't believe their scare tactics, but they have to be hotly debating their next move. It would not surprise me if the opportunity to disable Chrome Frame was being thought about as part of the next "Critical" Windows Service Pack update, executing a high-stakes game of cat and mouse between Microsoft and Google, and potentially the Justice Department - who didn't ever get its wish of splitting Microsoft up after its monopoly games with Netscape.

Apple's recent ploys to knock Palm Pre out of iTunes, and its controversial blockage of Google Voice make it clear they have every intent to control their users operating system and iPhone experience. In fact, as they have not really been taken to task in the way Microsoft has for anti-competitiveness, I would see Cupertino more likely to be proactive in trying to fight Google here. The only question is, will they ever get the chance to do battle?