Google unveiled its Chrome Apps initiative recently to launch apps that exist outside of the browser and extend its reach into more of a platform, but it looks like the company has a whole lot more planned. Over the past few weeks, Google has been updating its developer version of the Chrome browser to run what's essentially Chrome OS within Windows 8's "Metro" mode.
Chrome traditionally runs on the desktop in Windows 8, but you can set it to launch within the Windows 8 Start Screen into a special "Metro-style" mode. The new updates are very different from the existing stable channel version of Chrome in Windows 8 that simply presents a fullscreen browser. In the latest dev channel release the UI and functionality is identical to Chrome OS. There's a shelf with Chrome, Gmail, Google, Docs, and YouTube icons that can be arranged at the bottom, left, or right of the screen. Like Chrome OS, you can create multiple browser windows and arrange them using a snap to the left or right of the display or fullscreen modes. An app launcher is also available in the lower left-hand corner.
While the Chrome browser acts as a Windows 8 application, it's using a special mode that Microsoft has enabled specifically for web browsers. The software maker allows browsers on Windows 8 to launch in its "Metro-style" environment providing they're set as default. The apps themselves aren't listed in the Windows Store and they're still desktop apps, but the exception allows them to mimic Windows 8 apps and access the app contracts and snapping features of the OS. While Chrome will obviously run in this mode on Windows 8, Microsoft does not permit this type of behavior on Windows RT.
At the moment Chrome's new mode on Windows 8 is a little buggy and it crashes occasionally, but it's clear where Google is heading. While Chrome Apps may have appeared to be Google's Trojan horse, a Chrome OS running inside Windows 8 is the ultimate way for the company to create its own app ecosystem on top of Windows. Google has also been improving its Chrome browser's touch support with additions that will likely aid navigation on Windows 8 and Chrome OS machines in future. It's not clear when the Chrome OS-like mode will make its way into the stable channel for Windows 8, but Google's ecosystem on top of Microsoft's own Windows platform is on the way and it could be the next major battle ground for control over desktop computing.