Google goes offline with Chrome Apps for Mac

Cross-platform, pseudo-native apps hit OS X three months after Windows

Google yesterday launched its new packaged apps, dubbed "Chrome Apps," for the Mac, making good on a promise from September when it kicked off testing.

Chrome 31 for OS X, released three weeks ago, now supports Chrome Apps, Google's souped-up, cross-platform Web apps that are much closer to "native" software, the kind written for a specific operating system, like Windows or OS X. Chrome Apps can run without an Internet connection and call on several Google APIs and services barred to traditional website-based apps.

Written in HTML5, JavaScript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), Chrome Apps also look more like a native application since they run in a bare-bones frame minus any browser "chrome," like the address bar, toolbar and menus.

In September, Google previewed Chrome Apps and the associated App Launcher for the Mac in the early "Dev" build of its browser, but at the time said only that it would "soon" switch on the functionality in the "Stable" version.

Chrome for Windows has had Chrome App support since September's Chrome 29, with preliminary support going back as far as February. The Linux version of Chrome cannot yet run Chrome Apps.

Google has been pushing the packaged app strategy since its I/O developer conference in June 2012. Analysts have viewed the move as an attempt to subvert rivals' operating systems by using the popular Chrome browser as a Trojan horse.

Chrome Apps' roots extend to Chrome OS, the browser-based operating system that an increasing number of computer makers, or OEMs, have used on specialized Chromebook notebook lines. Dell, for example, announced its first Chromebook Wednesday, and will start selling the 11-in. laptop for less than $300 to educational buyers next month.

Chrome OS and the spin-off Chrome Apps have a tough row to hoe, analysts have said.

"To go consumer mainstream, Google will have to radically add off-line capabilities to Chrome OS," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, in an interview yesterday.

Chrome Apps have another problem: App inventory.

Currently, there is just a handful of Chrome Apps in Google's Chrome Store, the app distribution channel for the packaged apps. While some notable apps exist -- Google's own Keep note-taker, for example, and the Wunderlist to-do application -- there are more holes than filled spots. Chrome Apps are listed in the store section labeled "For Your Desktop."

Last month, Google tried to remedy the inventory issue with its first Chrome Dev Summit, a two-day developers conference that featured sessions on creating traditional Web apps and packaged apps, accessing APIs and optimizing app performance.

Chrome 31 for OS X, which includes the App Launcher and support for Chrome Apps, can be downloaded from Google's website.

WeatherBug app
WeatherBug, one of a handful of available Chrome Apps, looks and behaves much like a 'native' application on OS X.

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

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