In a move designed to further weaken Microsoft’s stranglehold on the desktop, Google has announced Chrome Apps for Windows and Chrome OS.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that we already had apps for Chrome, but Chrome Apps are a completely new initiative from Google. Chrome Apps use Native Client, software that is based on web standards but features additional Chrome only code to allow deeper integration into local machines, to allow for desktop class applications.
At the core Chrome Apps are based on standard web technologies, but run outside of the Chrome browser and appear to the user as a normal desktop application. Google claims that they want to create applications that are indistinguishable from standard Windows applications but can run cross platform.
While this might seem like a strange move for a company with such strong ties to the web, it signals Google’s acceptance that there are still some things the web cannot do. It’s is an olive branch to those whose applications need access to the GPU, local storage, and other hardware.
Brian Rakowski, a Chrome VP said, “We want to make Chrome OS a full-fledged operating system. We want to make sure there are no reasons it’s not the right product for everyone.”
- Chrome Apps work completely offline.
- There’s no browser UI or tabs, just the application you’re using.
- Access and save the documents, photos and videos on your hard drive as well as on Google and other web services.
- Interact with your USB, Bluetooth and other devices connected to your desktop, including digital cameras.
- Apps update silently, so you always get all the latest features and security fixes (unless permissions change).
- Chrome syncs your apps to any desktop device you sign in to, so you can keep working.
“Users don’t care what technology their apps are built with. Users may not even fully grasp what it means to be a Chrome App, and that’s okay. We want Chrome Apps to be so good you don’t even realize it’s something different,” says Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, a manager on the project.
Many will see Chrome Apps as history repeating itself. Plugins like Java, Microsoft’s ActiveX, and Flash all attempted to augment the web experience with operating system specific plugins with varying degrees of success — or some would say failure. The difference here, however, is that Google isn’t attempting to bring additional features to the web. Chrome Apps won’t replace web apps. In fact, I’d argue that using the “Chrome” name only causes confusion. Chrome Apps have at their core web standards but run separately from the web.
The goal of ActiveX was to bring desktop features — like accessing local hardware — to the web. Chrome Apps are Google’s attempt to bridge the gap (and push forward) web standards and desirable functionality. Chrome Apps is Google’s acknowledgement that web apps are not “quite there” yet.
[pullquote]Google’s ultimate goal isn’t to take over the desktop and spoil Microsoft’s monopoly, it’s to transition everyone to the web.[/pullquote]
The thing that stops Chrome Apps being just another browser plugin is that Google’s ultimate goal isn’t to take over the desktop and spoil Microsoft’s monopoly, it’s to transition everyone to the web. Chrome Apps is just another step in this plan and will be scrapped as soon as web standards catch up with Google’s long term vision.
A limited number of Chrome Apps are available now from a new Chrome Apps tab in the Chrome Web Store for Windows and Chrome OS. Further platforms are expected to be supported shortly, including Mac and Linux.
Google also states that its goal is to allow Chrome Apps to run anywhere that Chrome runs, presumably including mobile operating systems such as iOS and Android.
For schools this means more reliable and rich desktop class applications that run across platforms. Applications that students and teachers can “take home” creating a seamless transition between school and home. This can only be a good thing for schools.