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Google tries new ploy to challenge IE's dominance

Google Inc. has taken a new tack in its effort to become a factor in the browser business long dominated by Microsoft Corp.

Last month the company released a plug-in that embeds its Chrome browser into Microsoft's ubiquitous Internet Explorer, a move that could significantly boost its presence on corporate desktops and stick another thorn in the side of its much larger rival.

Google has so far made little headway against IE since unveiling Chrome a year ago.

Dubbed Chrome Frame, Google's new open-source plug-in is being cast as a way to instantly boost the notoriously slow JavaScript speed of IE, and to address the conundrum facing Web developers designing sites and applications that rely on Internet standards not supported by IE, like HTML 5.

In a blog post, Google engineers noted that developers often create work-arounds or limit the functionality of Web applications to support IE. Chrome Frame allows them to build fully functioning applications that will run in the Microsoft browser, they said.

While Google portrayed Chrome Frame as a boon for both developers and users, others speculated that the move may be an admission that getting users, especially in large corporate sites, to switch browsers is proving harder than the company anticipated.

“Google is realizing that the potential to get people to move off IE is harder than it thought,” said Sheri McLeish, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “Clearly, Google is gunning for Microsoft in all its businesses, but this is an unexpected path to take for what seemed like an effort on its part to offer a full alternative to IE.”

Google's move brought a rapid and sharp retort from Microsoft, which warned that IE users could double their security woes if they use Chrome Frame.

Amy Bazdukas, Microsoft's general manager for IE, said that IE8 users running Chrome Frame are also unwittingly discarding all the browsing protections that Microsoft built into IE8.

McLeish agreed that “the open question for enterprises is around security,” noting that companies would have to apply updates for not only IE, but also for Google's plug-in.

Google does appear willing to take such risks in its battle with the software giant — Chrome Frame is just the latest Google offering aimed directly at a market long owned by Microsoft.

The company, which turned 11 years old last week, has used some of the massive profits gained from its dominance of the search market to venture into the applications business, introducing a set of hosted tools called Google Apps that target Microsoft's ubiquitous Office suite.

In July, Google even announced plans to take on the foundation of Microsoft's business — Windows. A new Google open-source operating system, also called Chrome, could be running Internet-centric computers like netbooks as early as the second half of next year. Many companies — from Digital Research to Borland International and Sun Microsystems — have tried and failed to challenge Microsoft in the operating system market, but analysts say that Google has the financial muscle, engineering might and industry clout to put up a realistic fight.

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