Microsoft and Google might be archrivals on the business front, but they share a lot of customers. That means both companies have to grit their teeth and ensure that there’s at least some level of cooperation between the products that those shared customers use.
Google counts an enormous number of Windows users among its installed base for the Chrome browser and for services like Gmail and Google Apps. It can’t afford to ignore Windows 8.
Likewise, Microsoft would love to win those Chrome and Gmail users over to Internet Explorer, Office 365, and Outlook.com, but it has to accept the reality that many of those users have gone Google and aren’t coming back. So for Windows 8, Microsoft has to ensure that Google services work well out of the box.
It’s a classic example of co-opetition.
Over the past few days, I’ve been looking at the state of that relationship. Here’s a rundown of what Google customers can expect from Windows 8.
Let's start with Google Chrome for Metro.
I know, I know. Technically, it's now Windows 8 mode, not Metro.
Microsoft has purged the Metro name from most of its developer documentation, but it lives on in the official guide for browser developers (including Google and Mozilla) who are developing Metro-style enabled desktop browsers. These are curious hybrids that will run both on the traditional desktop and as Windows 8 full-screen apps. Here’s a snippet or two from that documentation, last updated August 16, 2012:
In Windows 8, the browser that the user sets as the default for handling web pages and associated protocols may be designed to access both the Metro style experience as well as the traditional desktop experience. This type of browser is called a Metro style enabled desktop browser.
Chrome 21, the current shipping version of Google’s browser, already supports Metro mode. With this version, setting Chrome as the default browser changes its Start screen icon to the Windows 8 style. Clicking that icon takes you to the Metro-style browser; to switch to the desktop browser, you have to go to the desktop and click the Chrome icon there.
But Chrome version 23 (currently available via the Dev channel) changes this behavior significantly. Setting Chrome as the default browser changes its tile to Metro style. New options on the Chrome menu let you switch back and forth between Metro and desktop versions, reopening all current tabs in the other environment. The Start screen tile remembers your choice, so clicking it takes you to the environment you were last using.
I was able to install extensions in the Metro version of Chrome 21, but they lived in a separate profile from the desktop version. By contrast, extensions I installed in either version of Chrome 23 (Metro or desktop) showed up when switching browser modes. That’s a noteworthy differentiator between Google’s Metro browser and Microsoft’s plugin-free Internet Explorer 10 for Metro.
Changing the default browser to Chrome was more confusing than it should be. See the gallery for details of how this process works.