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Google stages coup against Windows 8 with Chrome OS-like update for 'Metro'

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 16, 2014
Google yesterday revamped the Windows 8 "Metro" app version of its new Chrome 32 browser to resemble Chrome OS, the operating system that powers Chromebooks.

Google yesterday revamped the Windows 8 "Metro" app version of its new Chrome 32 browser to resemble Chrome OS, the operating system that powers Chromebooks.

It also promoted several major changes in Chrome's "stable" channel that it had earlier trumpeted in rougher builds of the browser — including audio indicators on tabs, a more aggressive anti-malware blocker and a parental spying tool — and patched 11 security vulnerabilities.

On Windows 8 and 8.1, Chrome 32 debuted the previously-previewed refresh of the browser that runs in the "Modern," nee "Metro" mode, the touch-based effort by Microsoft to move customers beyond the traditional classic desktop familiar to billions for decades.

Under Microsoft's rules, the user must select a browser as the operating system's default to run in the Metro user interface (UI).

Once that's done — not an easy chore according to a thread on Google's support forum, where users who just upgraded said they could not launch the browser in Metro — Chrome essentially reproduces the Chrome OS UI, complete with the ability to open multiple browser windows; run Chrome apps such as Any.DO and Pocket; and manage a taskbar that's automatically populated with icons for YouTube, Gmail and other Google services.

Google has made no secret of its push to subvert devices running rivals' operating systems and turn them into pseudo Chromebooks by shifting features from Chrome OS to Chrome the browser. A year ago, for example, Google started baking parts of QuickOffice, a popular iOS and Android app substitute for Microsoft Office, into both Chrome OS and the Chrome browser.

Analysts have viewed the strategy as part and parcel of Google's desire to insert itself and its core services — search, mapping, email and others — onto as many systems, both PCs and mobile devices, as possible to optimize traffic and associated ad revenue.

The plan has been stymied on PCs and Macs by the lack of Chrome-compatible desktop apps, which number fewer than 40, although there are many more standard Web apps that will run in Chrome tabs.

But Google has a huge lead over rival Mozilla on Metro. A Chrome version for the new Microsoft UI debuted in June 2012, and has been updated several times since. Meanwhile, Mozilla has repeatedly postponed its Metro edition of Firefox and for now has aimed at a March ship date.

On the desktop, Chrome 32 added indicators to browser tabs that show which pages are generating audio, accessing the computer's camera or playing on a nearby television using the company's Chromecast dongle. Customers had long requested a "noisy tabs" feature so they did not have to blindly search dozens of open tabs for the one that had auto-loaded a video with the sound cranked to maximum.


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