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BLOG: The new Chrome App Launcher: Google's backdoor into the offline world

Brad Chacos | July 23, 2013
It's a trap! The new Chrome App Launcher for Windows may look like a Googlefied Start Button, but that's what makes it so powerful.

Each packaged app runs as its own instance, not as part of the main Chrome browser, as this look at several packaged apps in the Windows fast-switch interface shows

It's made even easier by the App Launcher's Chrome tie-in. All your Chrome apps seamlessly travel with you to any Windows PC on which you've installed the Chrome App Launcher, even the locally stored package apps (though those take a few moments to download to new installations). Download a Chrome app once, and it's available anywhere.

What's more, the Chrome App Launcher lets you pin shortcuts for specific apps to the Windows taskbar or the desktop—mimicking native software functionality even further. It doesn't matter whether the app is packaged or a Web native, either. Blurring the lines, indeed.

Google gains
As a Web-focused company, Google gains whenever more people start using the Web more often. But beyond generally coaxing the world to Web services, Google has a direct interest in getting people in front of Google's Web services. That's the reason the Chrome App Launcher comes chock full of links to YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Search, and the Chrome Web Store (whose third-party apps often include Google Ads).

More notably, though they may appear as standalone offline programs, packaged apps can work only if you have Chrome installed. Not only are they built on top of the browser, but some of the advanced features being packed into packaged apps—such as in-app payment support or the ability to play nice with Fitbits and iTunes libraries—come courtesy of proprietary Google APIs, not open Web standards.

That's a price you have to pay for running those apps closer to the metal, so to speak.

"[Packaged apps] provide APIs for accessing device capabilities, which is something that's been lacking in Web applications for browsers," IDC analyst Al Hilwa told TechHive earlier this year. "This brings web-app capabilities closer to the level of what some native platforms offer."

It also means that while the Chrome App Launcher is indeed a force to spur general Web adoption to traditionally offline platforms, packaged apps in particular are inextricably tied to Chrome—which, in turn, makes Google's browser-centric Chrome OS more appealing, too.

"It looks like Google is defining the Chrome platform as what I'd call 'Web Platform Plus,' and intends for Chrome OS and the Chrome browser to be a 'platform on a platform' on any device it is permitted to run on," Hilwa told PCWorld in a separate interview.

Yes, folks, between the App Launcher and packaged apps, soon every notebook can be a Chromebook, even if it's not a Chromebook. (The Chrome App Launcher was recently added to the OS X version of Chromium, the open-source version of the browser.)


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