Thursday, June 27, 2013

Google's Chrome Packaged Apps (Local) Development Strategy

by Dietrich Schmitz

I've been watching Google's progress for some time.

We've seen most recently related technology improvements made to the Linux Kernel that specifically relate to support for software drivers and hardware on the Google Chromebook.

A few months ago, we saw the newest Pixel Chromebook arrive on the scene with superior display and other performance characteristics -- arguably as good as Apple's Retina MacBook line.

Now another adjustment to Chrome was announced in May for the official development of Google Chrome Packaged Apps.  This page explains packaged apps in further detail and includes a video.

If you watch the video which tries to explain what Packaged Apps are, Google talk euphemistically in terms which won't say we're writing local Apps, but if you read between the lines, that's really what they are doing.  Pay close attention Folks, these won't be half-baked Javscript Apps.  No, they'll be running with Native Client (NaCl) C/C++ compiled executables which are the fastest compiled code one can have driving any application.  Here's a brief text explaining what to expect when running a packaged app:

How they behave 
Packaged app pages always load locally. This allows apps to be less dependent on the network. Once a user installs an app, they have full control over the app's lifecycle. Apps open and close quickly, and the system can shut apps down at any time to improve performance. Users can fully uninstall apps. 
Without any effort on your part, your apps will launch offline. But you will need to put some effort into making sure user data is stored locally while offline and then synced back up to your data server once online (see Offline First).

You see, the Apps will be free-standing and so will run outside of the browser, but still use their fork of WebKit, called Blink, which is at the heart of Chrome.   Blink won't be recognizable after they've finished refactoring and tearing out the parts they don't want--it has been reported they already have removed over 8.8 millions lines of code.

And that's another thing they did which is beginning to make more sense.  They now can modify the WebKit code to their heart's content to satisfy both browser and packaged apps as they see fit without upstream hassles.

So, that leaves us where?

It leaves us with the proposition that Google know there is still a need for good local Desktop software, a la the days of Microsoft Windows past, only they aren't saying it.  Microsoft still have a market for Windows-based legacy x86 software which have always had the performance characteristics and the gold standard applications which so many still rely upon today and Google know they can't capture this traditional buyer's market without local Apps.  Local Apps still rule.

Initially, it seems they released a photography-driven app which comes pre-installed on the Pixel Chromebook.

And rest assured, there will be others to follow.  Applications fuel sales.  It's that simple.

With the recent disclosure of the NSA PRISM surveillance program, that leaves a major stigma attached to doing anything in the Cloud, which can potentially hinder sales of their Cloud-based Chromebook.  How long that stigma stays around remains to be seen, but, Google isn't placing all of their eggs in one basket.

Realistically, Google can go in any direction after whatever market they choose--and they usually do.  They have the know-how, cash, and have shown themselves to be quite capable at software development--innovative in fact, much to Microsoft's disliking and worry.

Can Google pull off writing a decent Office clone packaged App?  If they did, that might really send sales through the roof.  All they have to do is make up their minds to do it and it will happen, which should be one of the major concerns at One Microsoft Way.

So, watch the video above and see if you agree with my thinking.

-- Dietrich

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