8 ways that Chrome is challenging Windows

Look out Microsoft. Google wants to take on Windows itself -- not just Internet Explorer -- through Chrome.


8 ways that Chrome may be challenging Windows

Most of these are still in the experimental stages, appearing in development versions of the Chrome browser or the Chrome OS. The one thing they all share: They suggest that Google wants to take on Windows itself -- not just Internet Explorer -- through Chrome.


Offline apps

This is the most upfront example of Chrome encroaching into Windows’ territory: You can install certain apps from the browser that you can use even if your computer is offline. These so-called packaged apps function independently from Chrome, so the browser itself doesn’t need to be running.

After you install a Chrome packaged app for the first time, an app launcher will appear on the Windows taskbar. Clicking this opens a panel displaying shortcut icons. The shortcut can be set onto the desktop or the taskbar.

In essence, the way you launch and use Chrome’s offline apps is no different from any other typical Windows desktop application.


Viewing -- and editing -- Microsoft Office files

In Chrome OS, you can view Microsoft Office files within a browser. In the regular versions of Chrome browser for Windows and OS X you can do the same, but only after installing the beta extension Chrome Office Viewer.

This extension works invisibly and comes pre-installed on Chrome OS. When a final version of this extension is released, perhaps it too will come already installed on Chrome, or its functionality will be embedded into the browser’s code.

What’s even more intriguing is that current development versions of Chrome OS also include rudimentary technology to let you edit your locally stored Excel and Word files.


Voice control

Through Chrome you can search Google using your voice: Click the microphone icon inside the search box, and, when prompted, say the word or phrase you want to search. A digital female voice will even read aloud a summary of the results.

Google just released an extension that allows you to search Google with your voice, hands-free, by saying “OK, Google…” and then the word or phrase you want to search. Google could be expanding this technology so you could control the functions of future versions of Chrome through your voice, or even launch apps (including offline ones), by saying “OK, Google…” followed by the name of the app.


Viewing PDFs by default

You can use Chrome now to load and view PDFs, whether they are locally stored on your system or a link that you click to one that’s online. Future versions could be set to load PDFs you come across online by default within the browser.

Google claims this action is for the sake of security, on the argument that malware can be embedded within PDFs. But this also helps ensure that your activity remains within the Chrome ecosystem.


Blocking malware

We’re not going to say you won’t need antivirus or antimalware anymore, but Google intends to take the load off such tools by implementing a malware blocker in future versions of Chrome. This will flag files (particularly Windows executables) you try to download that Google’s database suspects could possibly mess with the browser or Windows.


Notification center

The Chrome notification center, which resides on the Windows desktop notification area, will pop open cards containing alerts sent by your Chrome apps or extensions (such as Gmail, Google Calendar or Hangouts).

Many third-party applications situate themselves on the Windows desktop notification area, of course, but we think it’s notable that Chrome’s notification center is being expanded upon, and it overall looks and functions similarly to Google Now. This suggests that it could become the foundation for the latter should Google bring their personal assistant service over to their desktop browser.


Touch controls

When Google released the Pixel, the expensive Chromebook with a touchscreen, it suggested touch UI features could be soon implemented into Chrome for Windows 8.

It wasn’t until six months later that some of them showed up in the development builds of Chrome: Swiping the screen to the left or right triggers the same actions as the back or forward buttons of the browser. There’s also an onscreen keyboard and pinch-and-zoom.


Chrome OS, the Windows 8 app

Mozilla has been working on a Windows 8 app version of Firefox. But Google may be taking a radically different approach: They’re experimenting with making their Windows 8 app version of Chrome into what would essentially be Chrome OS.

So when you launch it, you would get the full-screen Chrome OS experience. This would include its own desktop UI with taskbar (“app tray”) that would let you multitask multiple browser windows, and could presumably let you install and run Chrome offline apps, within it. So this app version of Chrome would turn your Windows 8 computer or device into a Chrome OS one.

Related: Dell's Chromebook is a sign of shakier times for Windows