Google previews Chrome app launcher for Macs

Will host first Chrome developers summit this November to push OS subversion strategy

Google added an App Launcher preview to Chrome on OS X that lets Mac owners run the company's new packaged apps from the Dock.

Users of Chrome 31 on OS X, currently in the "Dev" channel, the least-polished version of the browser, can access the souped-up Web apps from the launcher, which is automatically placed in the OS X Dock with the installation of any packaged app.

Packaged apps are über-Web apps that are much closer to "native" software -- the kind written for a specific operating system, such as Windows or OS X -- that can run without a live Internet connection and call on several Google APIs (application programming interfaces) and services barred to Web apps.

Written in HTML5, JavaScript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), packaged apps run in a stripped-down frame minus any browser "chrome" -- the address bar, toolbar, menus -- so that they look more like a native application on Windows, OS X or Linux.

Packaged apps can be set to run offline by default, take advantage of Google's synchronization architecture, and call APIs to access device hardware and peripherals.

On Thursday, Google refreshed the Windows version of Chrome 29 -- the "Stable" channel build -- to give users full access to packaged apps. Development of support for packaged apps on OS X and Linux has lagged behind Windows. Google only said it would add full support to the stable build of Chrome on the Mac "soon."

The App Launcher has been available on Windows since February.

"The launcher provides an easy way to find and launch your Chrome Apps, while at the same time integrating closely with the operating system so that your Chrome Apps behave and feel just like regular native ones," wrote Joe Marini, a Chrome developer advocate, in a Thursday blog.

Chrome apps can also be found using OS X's Spotlight search tool, Marini said. Many Mac users rely on Spotlight as an alternative to the Dock to quickly locate and launch applications.

Google has been pushing the packaged app strategy since its I/O developer conference in June of last year. Analysts have viewed the move as an attempt to subvert the underlying operating system on any connected device by using the popular Chrome browser as a Trojan horse.

"Browsers are already platforms within platforms," said IDC analyst Al Hilwa in a July interview. "By making it easy for Web applications to take advantage of these APIs, Google creates a larger ecosystem for Chrome as a browser and also as a native platform for Chrome OS devices."

Later this year Google will host its first Chrome Dev Summit as part of that strategy. The two-day conference -- Nov. 20-21 -- will feature Chrome engineers and program managers leading sessions on creating traditional Web apps and packaged apps, accessing the APIs Google has been busy building or tweaking, and optimizing app performance.

The summit, which has not yet begun taking registrations, will take place on Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus. Sessions will also be webcast live, Google has promised.

The dev build of Chrome 31 for OS X, which includes the App Launcher preview, can be downloaded from Google's website.

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The Chrome App Launcher pops up from the OS X Dock.

This article, Google previews Chrome app launcher for Macs, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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