A taste of Chrome OS in Windows 8.x

A taste of Chrome OS in Windows 8.x

Summary: Google's Chrome's Web browser non-stable 'dev channel' build currently looks like the complete Chrome OS desktop on Windows 8.x when set as the default Web browser and opened in Metro.

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First things first. Google is not sneaking Chrome OS into Windows 8.x. With the right experimental version of the Chrome Web browser and right settings, it may look like it and act like it, but it's not Chrome OS.

Chrome on Windows 8
It may look like Chrome OS, it may even act like Chrome OS, but this is really a developer's version of the Chrome Web browser running on Windows 8.1 (Credit: sjvn)

What you're really seeing is a beta of the Chrome Web browser, Chrome 32, running on Windows 8.x. The coming together of two technical paths, one by Microsoft and other by Google, enables the Windows developer channel build of the Chrome Web browser to masquerade as Chrome OS.

On the Microsoft side, ever since Windows 8, Microsoft has been working on an immersive, plug-in-free Web browser experience that could only be used with the Modern user interface, aka Metro. The first of these was Internet 10 in Metro mode.

With this approach, as the Microsoft document, "Developing a new experience enabled desktop browser" (DOCX document), states: "A desktop browser that participates in the new experience when the user wants the browser to do so. Such a browser can provide HTML5 rendering for Web pages and service HTTP/HTTPS requests. By definition, such a browser has full access to Win32 APIs for rendering HTML5, including the ability to use multiple background processes, JIT [just-in-time] compiling, and other distinctly browser-related functionality (like background downloading of files). Desktop browsers typically run at medium or low integrity level."

In other words, a properly written browser for Metro has far more access to the underlying operating system than Web browsers usually do.

At the same time, Google, has been giving both Chrome OS and the Chrome Web browser "Chrome Packaged Apps." These are HTML5, JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) apps that run directly on the browser. Chromebook users know these well. 

What you get when you combine the two developments in the latest dev channel build of Chrome is a Metro version of the Chrome Web browser that looks and acts a lot like Chrome OS. You can still run the normal Chrome Web browser by launching it from the desktop interface.

If you want to give it a try, here's how you do it. First download the developer build for Chrome 32. Then, install it in Windows 8 or 8.1. Next,  make Chrome the default Windows 8 browser. To do this, first open Chrome, go to settings, and in the "Default browser" section, click Make Google Chrome my default browser. Next, click on the Chrome tile from the Windows 8 Metro Start screen.  If you start it from any other place, such as the desktop, you'll be running the "ordinary" version of Chrome. You should then see a screen like the one above. 

Google announced that it was going to bring its Chrome apps first to Windows and then the Mac and Linux in early September. This is the first step to keeping that promise.

According to Erik Kay, Google Engineering Director and self-proclaimed Chrome App-ologist, when fully realized these Chrome-based apps will bring the following features to Windows and then other operating systems:

Work off-line: Keep working or playing, even when you don’t have an Internet connection.

Connect to the cloud: Access and save the documents, photos and videos on your hard drive as well as on Google Drive and other web services.

Stay up-to-speed: With desktop notifications, you can get reminders, updates and even take action, right from the notification center.

Play nice with your connected devices: Interact with your USB, Bluetooth and other devices connected to your desktop, including digital cameras.

Keep updated automatically: Apps update silently, so you always get all the latest features and security fixes (unless permissions change).

Pick up where you left off: Chrome syncs your apps to any desktop device you sign in to, so you can keep working.

Sleep easier: Chrome apps take advantage of Chrome’s built-in security features such as Sandboxing. They also auto-update to make sure you have all the latest security fixes. No extra software (or worrying) required.

Launch apps directly from your desktop: To make it quicker and easier to get to your favorite apps, we’re also introducing the Chrome App Launcher for Windows, which will appear when you install your first new Chrome App. It lives in your taskbar and launches your apps into their own windows, outside of Chrome, just like your desktop apps.

That's a lot of promises but this version isn't ready to keep them yet. Chrome 32, as you would expect from a developer's version, is buggy. While it never crashed on me on Windows 8.1, it was very quirky at times.

If you're comfortable with beta software, and you want to see how Google sees the future of personal computing and the Web without buying a Chromebook or running Chrome OS in a virtual machine, give this a try.

Will Google eventually make this the default for Chrome on Windows? We don't know yet. A Google representative told me, "We're always experimenting with new features in Chrome, especially in the Dev channel, but have nothing to announce at this time."

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Topics: Windows, Google, Linux, Software, Google Apps, Web development, Windows 8

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41 comments
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  • My

    So in a couple of months I am probably going to spend £2000 + and a surface pro 2 and a new laptop, both with be running windows 8.1.

    After spending that I going to turn them into chrome books ... yep .. not going to happen.

    I see why they want to capture the market the way they are trying, and I can see them playing their trick of boot strap installing this with other peoples software with a check box pre filled in for "do you want to install this" and "do you want to make it default" as they do with chrome already... but I for one am not that gullible.
    Tiir
    • Re: but I for one am not that gullible

      Yet you are going to spend £2000 + and a surface pro 2 and a new laptop, both with be running windows 8.1.

      I'd wait until the Surface 2 Pro hits the slides and gets a whopping big mega discount, just like the surface 1 pro did.
      InformationRetrieval
      • Well

        Maybe for him, Windows 8.1 is much much more worthy of his £2000+ than the chrome books. Which I can understand why.
        Koymik
      • Re: but I for one am not that gullible

        This is Tiir logged in as something other than this it seams. I could wait .. but I don't want to :-) If I wait long enough there will be other windows tablets I want or a Surface 4 or a Surface 4 .. but I will get those when I get those.
        Tiir
    • calm down, calm down, don't get a big...

      Turn it into a Chromebook? It doesn't magically permanently transform it into a Chromebook when you do as they suggest. It just let's you use the Chrome apps if you want to. You act like this is some sort of top secret scam conspiracy and once you've been locked into it you're screwed. If it turns out you don't like it, just open your favorite browser and set it to your default. Boom. Problem solved. Quit being such a drama queen.
      nickburns666
      • calm down, calm down, don't get a big...

        No drama queening going on other than on you side.

        All companies fight for their own eco system, Google want dominance.

        My Point is if I ever wanted all the benefits of chrome (that has to be sarcastic) then I would waist my money on a chrome book. When I go out and purchase a laptop or tablet with Windows 8.1 I am not going to foul it.

        You say I am acting like this is a top secret scam conspiracy and once you've been locked into it you're screwed.. well it kind of is only not so not top secret at all.

        If they did not play underhanded games they would not boot strap their browser to other products and then have two check boxes already pre-checked One for "do you want to install chrome" and the other for "do you want to make this your default browser" .. if that is not underhanded I don't know what is! They do that with chrome now, and I see no reason for them to change.

        you are right about one thing though, I will not be locked in because I want install it.
        Tiir
  • chrome beta

    it's great! i love it! so far.
    fws98ws6tt
  • Just what I wanted!

    So, I've installed Windows 8 and I've got two completely separate UXes. But it's missing a little special something... yes, that's it, a third UX.

    I honestly have no idea what Google is smoking. I can't see why anyone would want this. Surely a better idea would be to make the Metro mode browser, oh, I dunno... Metro? Make the bloody thing have a touch UI like Microsoft has done and Firefox is doing in their respective browsers. That's something Windows 8 tablet users would adore. Not fragmenting the user experience further.
    SupaRawr93
    • Sort-of agreed.

      While I have no problems with the Chrome UI, its lack of touch gestures and falling behind is the reason why I dropped it.

      I'm using Desktop/Metro IE and Desktop Firefox right now, mainly because Chrome lacks smooth scrolling and its touch support is quite limited.
      ForeverCookie
      • Actually

        You can switch UI in chrome right from the menu button in Chrome to relaunch it in Win8 mode or regular desktop mode. In Win8 mode the keyboard will pop up on entry fields but it is, as you noted, worthless for touch otherwise except what Windows can bring in emulated mouse commands. For being the king of touch devices in the form of Android, this is quite a failure for google. If you zoom the size of the Chrome window to get bigger text and objects, touches don't even register in the correct place anymore. Chrome also locks up quite regularly for short periods.

        I am often having to revert to IE on Win8.x machines though that is also not perfect. First off IE has a scrolling bug too. If you leave "Smooth Scrolling" enabled in IE, the scrolling is actually jumpy and unuseable. "Backwards". All my Chrome bookmarks that sync throughout my devices are nowhere to be found in IE. Sharing them can only be done be exporting them one way from Chrome to an html file that you can use as a start screen. Third party sync apps just mess up everything. Chrome should use a standard configurable Favorites folder that can be shared among browsers.
        LarsDennert
  • @ SupaRawr93 I think you are getting mixed up.....

    This is NOT a Google move it is a Microsoft move.
    Probally because everone on a new install, immediatly downloads Google Chrome.
    WHY a better experiance that anyting MS has to offer.
    carlsf@...
    • Wut?

      This is... Microsoft... huh?
      SupaRawr93
    • I switch to Google DNS, and add Chrome.

      Google DNS is far superior to the default Verizon DNS that comes with Verizon.

      But everything Google makes works better on Linux anyway.

      I like the speed and simplicity of Chrome and Chromium. My family prefers Firefox, but all family members have been using Linux for years.

      Linux doesn't get viruses, but if I run ClamTk I get three entries, but they are just Google tracking items that I agreed to have for the privilege of using Google products, >> not a problem at all, Google is large enough to uses aggregate data for marketing. Not a problem, even after 100,000 saved Gmails and using Chrome since it's inception.
      Joe.Smetona
      • Errrr

        You should try Open DNS instead of what Google's DNS gives you. After all Google is famous for playing around with privacy issues. Who knows what the DNS data will give them.
        Gisabun
  • It's great

    Been using it today, it's pretty cool actually.
    Panels don't work (in fact just break it).
    No wallpaper yet.
    No shortcut keys.
    Function keys stay windows mapped.
    Apart from those points, it's not half bad for the dev channel.
    Boothy_p
  • Just block that crap

    Create a policy to prevent execution, done.
    greywolf7
  • But Google said it could not be done

    Isn't that why there is no Chrome browser for RT?
    Cant be done unless you give them full system access?
    Oh that's right, Google didn't do this.
    So maybe they cant.
    thekman58
    • eh?

      Chrome is impossible in RT because it has a JIT javascript compiler... big no no for WinRT API.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • There's a start menu

    Heh... I wonder if people will go there looking for Windows stuff. :)
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • Less than 50% of wiki searches made by Windows

    August 2013: First time since Wikimedia started to study market share of wiki search - Windows in now minority OS there.

    http://stats.wikimedia.org/archive/squid_reports/2013-08/SquidReportOperatingSystems.htm

    What's even more interesting is that Linux has now 3,65% market share in pc. Up from 2% since since April-May 2013.
    MacBroderick