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Mozilla aborted IE in Firefox clothing

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Application security programs and practises

At one point, Mozilla considered building a plug-in that would turn Microsoft's Internet Explorer into a decent browser. But unlike Google, it quickly abandoned the idea.

Mozilla Corp.'s director of community development Asa Dotzler tells The Reg that during its Firefox Summit two summers ago, developers discussed a plug-in similar to Google's Chrome Frame.

"We said 'What if there was a way we could speed up JavaScript in IE to bring it into the 21st century? Could we put our JavaScript engine in there?" Dotzler says. They actually prototyped something, but that's as far as the notion went.

"We decided it's probably not worth it. Let Microsoft build their own browser," he says. "We said 'That doesn't quite seem right.' We're not in the plug-in business. We're in the business of making the web - not these little boxed-in things that sit inside of the web."

Google sees thing a bit differently. Released in late September, its Chrome Frame plug-in equips Internet Explorer with the rendering and JavaScript engines at the heart of its very own Chrome browser. The Mountain View Chocolate Factory recently expanded beta testing of Google Wave - its new-age communications platform - and it wants to make sure IE can actually run the thing.

Naturally, Microsoft cried foul. But so did Mozilla. CEO Mitchell Baker and engineering vp Mike Shaver both argued that Chrome Frame would undermine security and privacy - and sow all sorts of confusion.

"The overall effects of Chrome Frame are undesirable," Baker wrote. "I predict positive results will not be enduring and - to the extent it is adopted - Chrome Frame will end in growing fragmentation and loss of control for most of us, including web developers."

Dotzler agrees - and then some. If you install Chrome Frame, he points out, you're poking a hole in Microsoft's private browsing mode. "Let's say you go into private browsing mode and you go to a site that calls up Chrome," he explains. "Now you're in Chrome Frame, and you're not private anymore - because Chrome Frame doesn't know about IE's private browsing mode. To me, that's a fundamental failing in privacy and security."

He also points out that if you clear your cookies in IE, you aren't clearing them in Chrome Frame. "[Chrome Frame] is an entirely separate browser, but there's no user interface to manage that browser."

In short, Chrome Frame is a plug-in. "Plug-ins, for whatever reason, are a problem," Dotzler says. "It's like Flash. It doesn't talk to things around it in the ways that it should." ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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