Google’s strategy to use the Chrome browser as a desktop replacement took another step forward on Friday. Users of Chrome Canary, an experimental version of Google’s browser, can now associate Mac files with supporting Chrome apps in the Finder. This means that instead of opening a basic text file with the native OS X TextEdit, you can open it with a Chrome app like Text, Caret or Simple Text.
In this screenshot, for example, I’m in the Mac OS X Finder and about to open a basic text file called readme.txt. Note that I can choose a number of apps that can open and show text files and the default is Apple’s own TextEdit. In the list of apps, however, you can see Caret — a packaged app from Google’s Chrome Web Store that behaves just like a native app on any system with Chrome installed.
The new feature was shared on Friday by Google evangelist,François Beaufort on his Google+ page, where he explains how to enable the function on a Mac computer with Chrome Canary installed: “All you need is to enable the experimental chrome://flags/#enable-apps-file-associations flag and restart your browser.”
Google is managing this trick through the app manifests, where developers can dictate which apps are compatible with different file types using what Google calls file handlers. The Chromium team is working on the file handlers for packaged apps on Windows computers but notes that it’s more challenging. A comment on the Google+ post from Matt Guici, one of the Google developers working on this, explains:
“It’s much harder on Windows because Windows thinks all Chrome apps are called ‘Google Chrome’ and won’t let us change the name or icon, or associate a file type with multiple Chrome apps at the same time. We’re still working on it.”
As with all early features, this one is still a work in progress, which is exactly what the Chrome Canary version is for. As features get refined and tested, they eventually make their way up to the standard Google Chrome browser. There’s no timeline for when that will happen with the file associations because it’s in an early stage.
In fact, I couldn’t get the feature working at first with the Text Chrome app that I’d installed previously. It was only when I installed a new Chrome app in Chrome Canary — Caret, in the example above — that I could open a file from the Mac Finder with a Google Chrome app. And although I can’t set Caret or another Chrome app as the default app to open text files, I did get the integration to work:
How does this fit in to Google’s overall Chrome strategy? I laid it out last year in this post if you want more details, but to make a long story short: Google Chrome may appear to be “just a browser,” but it’s actually a framework that is slowly gaining desktop platform functions and its own native apps.