Chrome OS slips into Windows 8: What’s Google’s goal here?

After a long lull, Google has finally revealed its next play for Chrome OS: Slipping the Chrome-based operating system into Windows 8, like a Trojan horse. The new alpha version of Chrome for Windows 8 is essentially Chrome OS – open it in the new-style (Metro) interface, and you get a multi-window interface, with a taskbar and app launcher, that looks and feels a lot like Chrome OS. With development and adoption of Chrome OS seemingly at a standstill, is this Google’s gambit to finally push its other operating system into the hands of consumers?

For the longest time, Chrome in Windows 8 was simply the Chrome browser – even if you launched Chrome in Metro, you’d just get a full-screen version of the browser. Now, however, if you join the Chrome developer channel (alpha), and then launch Chrome from Windows 8’s Metro interface, you get an entirely new experience that looks just like Chrome OS running on a Chromebook.

Google seems to be exploiting the fact that Windows 8 treats web browsers differently than normal Metro apps. A conventional Metro app is confined by the WinRT runtime to a very restrictive set of features, with the ostensible purpose of making sure that the Metro side of Windows 8 runs smoothly on tablets, doesn’t crash, and is energy efficient on tablets.

Browsers, however, are conventional Win32 apps that are allowed to open in the Metro interface. This is primarily because modern browsers, with complex HTML5 and JavaScript web apps, are almost like virtual operating systems, and thus need extra access to low-level resources that conventional Metro apps don’t need. It would seem that Google has used this feature to port the Chrome OS window manager to Win32 – probably not exactly how Microsoft intended this feature to be used.

This new Metro version of Chrome, however, really does look and feel like Chrome OS. You can open multiple Chrome browser windows (and pin them to the left or right), and there’s a taskbar and app launcher at the bottom of the screen. Because it’s Windows 8, you can even split-screen the new version of Chrome with other Windows apps.

As for what Google’s long-term goal is, we can really only guess until this feature hits the stable channel of Chrome for Windows 8 and Google publishes an official blog post detailing the purpose of this Chrome OS Trojan horse – probably in a couple of months or so. There is probably some connection to Google’s announcement of Chrome Apps last month – desktop apps that are essentially websites/apps running inside Chromeless Chrome windows.

To be honest, though, the whole apps/web apps/pinned sites/browser-as-an-OS area is a bit of a mess right now. It’s a classic case of there being a dozen ways to do roughly the same thing, but consumers would be better served by having just one or two ways of doing that one thing well. Between Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Chrome, there are still so many competing methods of achieving roughly the same outcome that I think it’ll be a long time before web apps become a mature and enjoyable experience for users.

Image Credit: Gizmodo