Google joins Windows 8 browser war with plans for Metro Chrome

Google has confirmed that it plans to join Mozilla in developing a next-generation browser optimized for the Metro style of Windows 8. It's an important validation of the Windows 8 platform from the developers of two of the most widely used Windows apps around.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor on

First it was Mozilla. Now Google has tipped its plans to produce a version of its flagship Chrome browser built specifically for the Windows 8 platform.

A Google spokesperson confirms the report (originally published in Mashable) and says the new version of Chrome will be based on its desktop browser:

Our goal is to be able to offer our users a speedy, simple, secure Chrome experience across all platforms, which includes both the desktop and Metro versions of Windows 8. To that end we're in the process of building a Metro version of Chrome along with improving desktop Chrome in Windows 8, such as adding enhanced touch support.

Microsoft has a head start in this browser battle, with a version of Internet Explorer 10 that’s baked into Windows 8 and has been under steady development for a full year. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview includes the latest public release of IE10, which offers two views of the same browser engine: an immersive, plugin-free app (Metro style) and a traditional desktop app that supports Flash and other third-party plugins.

Mozilla says it is in the very early phases of “a very large project” to build Firefox for Metro. Product Manager Asa Dotzler said last week, “We’re working in stages. We have a proof of concept now. … I do not anticipate that we will get beyond a late stage Beta this year.”

Around the time of the launch of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft published a white paper, “Developing a Metro style enabled desktop browser,” with formal guidelines for developers:

A desktop browser that chooses to participate in the new Metro style experience when the user has expressed preference for the browser to do so. Such a browser can provide HTML5 rendering for webpages 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 compiling, and other distinctly browser-related functionality (like background downloading of files). Desktop browsers typically run at medium or low integrity level.

For Google, building a Metro style browser is a logical step that ensures it remains competitive as Windows evolves. Many of its signature services—Gmail and Google Docs in particular—are optimized for use with the Chrome engine. It’s hard to imagine that it would leave those users on their own when Windows 8 ships later this year.

For Microsoft, the decisions by Mozilla and Google provide an important validation of the Metro platform and Windows 8. On one level, the entry of two fierce competitors weakens Internet Explorer. But the fact that all three next-generation browsers will be available on the Windows 8 platform sends a signal to third-party developers and increases the likelihood that next-generation web-based apps will get an early foothold.

It's unclear whether either of these alternative browsers will be able to find a foothold on the next generation of tablets running Windows on ARM (WOA). The Microsoft guidelines say, "Metro style enabled desktop browsers may be distributed via existing channels, for example, web download, network share, OEM pre-install, or systems management software." Apps for WOA, on the other hand, will be distributed only through the Microsoft-run app store.

Microsoft would have to approve the distribution of an alternative browser through its store, and you can be certain that it would insist on perfect adherence to its app guidelines before allowing a third party in.

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