Google seeks to marry desktop and cloud with new Chrome apps

The first batch of so-called Chrome 'packaged apps' is now available for users of the browser's 'stable' version

Google has wheeled out a new type of application for its Chrome browser that according to the company combines the best of desktop and cloud software.

Equating them to tablet- and smartphone-like apps but for desktops and laptops, Google said on Thursday that they mix "the speed, security and flexibility" of the Web with the "functionality" of software installed on devices.

"These apps are more powerful than before, and can help you get work done, play games in full-screen and create cool content all from the web," wrote Google engineering director Erik Kay in a blog post.

An initial set of this new type of app is live now in the Chrome Web Store for Chrome OS and Windows computers. They'll be available for MacOS and Linux "soon."

Google first announced this type of "packaged app" several months ago, and some have been available to people using the Chrome browser in its "developer" version. Now they're available for the first time for people who use the browser's "stable" version.

Key characteristics of this new type of app, which Google refers to as "packaged apps," include their ability to be used and store data offline, their limited display of extraneous browser elements like buttons and tabs, and their capacity to tap into the cloud to access and save documents and other content in Google Drive and other similar cloud storage services.

Google also highlights their ability to "play nice" with peripherals linked to devices via USB, Bluetooth and other connections and to display desktop notifications for users.

Other features include background "silent" updates and syncing with various devices so people can continue their tasks when they switch devices.

Also new is the Chrome App Launcher for Windows, which will show up on people's computers when the install one of these apps.

"It lives in your taskbar and launches your apps into their own windows, outside of Chrome, just like your desktop apps," Kay wrote.

The biggest beneficiaries here will be owners of Chrome OS computers, said Forrester Research analyst J.P. Gownder, referring to the Chromebook laptops and Chromebox desktops made by Google, Samsung, Acer and other PC makers.

"For Chrome OS to succeed, Google had to beef up its offline capabilities and let the OS interface with the hardware at a deeper level," he said.

With this improvement for Chrome browser apps, Chrome OS becomes a more viable alternative to mainstream OSes like Windows and Mac OS, according to Gownder.

What remains to be seen is whether Google will be able to entice a critical mass of developers to build these packaged apps for Chrome.

It will be key for the development tools to be easy to use, because developers already have their hands full writing code for a variety of desktop, tablet and smartphone OSes, he said.

Meanwhile, Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst, said Chrome OS apps are strategic for Google because the company wants to make the Web platform viable for the most complex and sophisticated apps.

"The key challenge for the Web ecosystem is the maturity of tools and developer skills in the area," Hilwa said via email.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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