Google's new desktop strategy: Invade and conquer

Google's new strategy to make Chrome OS into everyone's OS: Build it straight into Windows by way of Chrome itself

The most recent batch of changes to the developer version of Google Chrome in Windows 8 includes a new mode to run Chrome OS in the Metro/Modern UI portion of that OS. That by itself isn't unusual; many software makers (Mozilla, for instance) are making Modern UI versions -- or at least facets -- of their apps.

What's unusual is that this full-screen version of Chrome has been tailored to look and work exactly like the full-blown version of Google's Chrome OS. The Verge details these changes with screenshots.

It all ties into Google's long-term plan to shift users away from any particular desktop platform -- be it Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux -- and onto Google Chrome, and Google generally, as a platform.

Among the other interesting changes, while Chrome normally launches to the legacy desktop, it can now also be set to launch directly into the new full-screen UI -- in essence, a kind of click-to-boot into Chrome OS. Anyone curious about running Chrome OS no longer has to dual-boot, run a VM, or keep a separate device handy. As long as you're running Windows 8, Chrome OS will be only a tap away, and with no more of a resource expenditure than launching Chrome itself.

Plus, nothing says a variant on this stuff (not using Modern UI, of course, but a full-screen mode nonetheless) can't be backported to Windows 7 as well.

The Web browser has quickly become one of the most broadly used (if not the most broadly used) application on the PC desktop. By taking the guts of Chrome -- its rendering engine, JavaScript engine, and cross-platform technology (Native Client) -- and packaging apps that run in it so they feel less like "browsers apps" and more like just another native app, Google's making it that much easier for people to shift their already heavily Web-centric workloads away from the desktop.

Eventually, if users have enough casual exposure to Chrome OS in a form they're comfortable with -- and have that much less dependency on the rest of their PC by then -- they may well shift to the full-blown Chrome OS without feeling they're missing anything. (InfoWorld's Simon Phipps recently switched to a Chrome OS-powered Chromebook and didn't feel shortchanged, even after months of use.)

Google made previous steps in this direction with the release of the Chrome Apps launcher, a way to package Chrome-powered apps through a launcher on the host system's desktop. Some of the preloaded apps in the launcher are demos of Google's Native Client technology, which allows high-speed code to be run in a cross-platform way. That's yet another way Google is attempting to unseat people from running a specific desktop OS and move them toward running, well, Chrome.

Mozilla attempted something like this with Prism, which launched in 2011 and was designed to wrap Web applications in such a way that they could run right on the desktop with minimal browser chrome (pun intended). In fact, many of Prism's ideas were moved into another Mozilla project called -- you guessed it -- "Chromeless."

Tellingly, both Prism and Chromeless are now inactive projects, with Mozilla focusing its platform efforts on a version of Firefox-as-a-platform for portable devices.

This story, "Google's new desktop strategy: Invade and conquer," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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