Everybody knows it: Internet Explorer sucks. It sucks mostly because even in its 8th version, it still isn’t standard-compliant. The other four major players in the browser field, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari, have synchronized their efforts and achieved a rather similar level of compliance. Web designers can target them globally and obtain very consistent results. But IE remains a mystery. No matter what, version after version, it just doesn’t manage to catch up with the pack. So a carefully designed web page looks beautiful – as intended – on most browsers but on IE, it’s likely to be ugly and/or broken.

But picture this: Google, in its rather obvious ongoing campaign to steal some of Microsoft’s monopoly and fame, has just released a very clever plugin called Google Chrome Frame. Once installed, the little beauty allows someone browsing the web with Internet Explorer to actually experience web pages as they would be seen on Google Chrome – meaning the right way. The plugin simply turns IE into a standard-compliant, nice-playing browser. Wow.

The Google Chrome Frame plugin simply turns IE into a standard-compliant, nice-playing browser.

The idea, to quote TechCrunch, is both hilarious and awesome. I find it quite satisfying to see most of the industry rallying against IE, because I am le tired of getting headaches trying to make my pages IE-compatible or of finding ways for them to degrade – never mind gracefully – decently. In this sense, Chrome Frame seems like a godsend. Drawbacks are likely to surface and the plugin will without a doubt have its share of detractors, but I think it’s a fantastic idea, even if only in its hilariousness.

From a designer’s point of view, going the Google Chrome Frame way is a two-step process: the addition of a simple meta tag is enough to make a page compatible, and then a slightly more complicated piece of code allows for browser detection and prompting the IE user to install the plugin.

Make no mistake about it, this is all in a very, very early development stage. As it has become customary with Google, the project was made available to the guinea pigs, I mean the developers, in order to leverage their time and speed up the gestation. But the newborn looks impressive and is sure to make many heads turn. It should be noted that Chrome Frame isn’t really a browser plugin but rather is installed – and thus eventually removed – like a program, to and from the Control Panel.

If you’d like to see it in action – provided you are indeed still running some version of Internet Explorer (my heart goes to you), you can go to my new sitemap and install the plugin. Because of its beta stage, Google Chrome Frame doesn’t yet seem to reload the page correctly once installed, so you’ll have to close and restart your IE browser. But at that point, what a difference. Notice for instance that suddenly, IE is rendering drop shadows and rounded corners correctly!

So the million dollar question is: who will install this? It can be argued that a good percentage of the people who are still using Internet Explorer do so because of an inherent fear of change, of the unknown, of computers and complicated installs. If switching over to Firefox is too intimidating, installing a plugin might still appear to be too much trouble and be skipped. Time will tell.