On the official 5th birthday of Google’s Chrome browser, Google introduced Chrome apps for Windows desktop users. The new “For your desktop” section of the Chrome Web Store launched on Thursday and offers applications that run outside of the browser as well as offline on Windows computers that have the Chrome browser installed. Support for Mac and Linux is in the works.
If you’ve been following our Chrome coverage — or listening to our weekly Chrome Show podcast — this shouldn’t surprise. For the past several months, we’ve noted that Google’s long-term computing strategy has a name and that name is Chrome. This particular podcast episode gets to the heart of the matter:
What appears to many to be just a browser is actually a framework for applications built both on web technologies and native programming languages. Google has been calling these Packaged Apps and Native Apps respectively, but now it looks as though they’re being rebranded as apps “For your desktop”. In an email, a Google representative confirmed, saying: “These are actually known as packaged apps to developers… Chrome Apps can use Native Client, but don’t necessarily need to use it.”
And folks like me who use a Chromebook have already been using these types of apps. It’s only now that Google is making a concerted branding effort to get Windows users on board.
So what can these apps do? Quite a bit of what a native Windows app can do. They have access to device hardware such as the webcam and microphone, they work offline and they support notifications, for example. After using dozens of these such apps on my Pixel, I simply use them as examples when people say Chrome OS is just a browser: These look and behave like traditional native applications. Take a peek at this video demo of a game on my Pixel that works offline and supports a USB-connected Xbox 360 controller:
That’s just one example. Here’s a full list of capabilities from Google’s blog post on the topic:
- Work offline: Keep working or playing, even when you don’t have an internet connection.
- More app, less Chrome: No tabs, buttons or text boxes mean you can get into the app without being distracted by the rest of the web.
- Connect to the cloud: Access and save the documents, photos and videos on your hard drive as well as on Google Drive and other web services.
- Stay up-to-speed: With desktop notifications, you can get reminders, updates and even take action, right from the notification center.
- Play nice with your connected devices: Interact with your USB, Bluetooth and other devices connected to your desktop, including digital cameras.
- Keep updated automatically: Apps update silently, so you always get all the latest features and security fixes (unless permissions change).
- Pick up where you left off: Chrome syncs your apps to any desktop device you sign in to, so you can keep working.
- Sleep easier: Chrome apps take advantage of Chrome’s built-in security features such as Sandboxing. They also auto-update to make sure you have all the latest security fixes. No extra software (or worrying) required.
- Launch apps directly from your desktop: To make it quicker and easier to get to your favorite apps, we’re also introducing the Chrome App Launcher for Windows, which will appear when you install your first new Chrome App. It lives in your taskbar and launches your apps into their own windows, outside of Chrome, just like your desktop apps. Have lots of apps? Navigate to your favorite apps using the search box.
That last bullet is one we’ve been pointing out over the past several months. Yes, Windows has its own app launcher, but by building one into Chrome, you can see how Google is trying to “take over” the desktop. It hopes you’ll simply run and stay in the Chrome environment more than Windows. And this new breed of applications, along with an easy place to find them in the Chrome Web Store, makes it easy to do so.
Updated at 10:12am PT with a comment from Google.