Chrome Apps No Longer On Windows,Mac And Linux
Chrome Apps No Longer On Windows,Mac And Linux
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Google has just announced that Chrome apps are no longer going to be supported on Windows, Mac or Linux. This is a source of some confusion, but it doesn't mean the end of Chrome apps running in Chrome or under Chrome OS. 

Web apps are the way to go for many programs, but there is a problem.

Web apps using just HTML/JavaScript run in the browser and they don't have the simplicity of a desktop or native app. Running inside the browser sandbox, they often don't have access to the same APIs.

In the case of mobile systems there are ways around the problems. Systems like Cordova run the web app in a container that does provide access to the APIs and a more flexible launcher often allows web apps to have icons just like native apps.

On the desktop, however, things are more complicated. Three years ago Google announced  Chrome Apps that could be run from the desktop apparently without the help of a browser. The Chrome Apps launcher could be installed on a desktop machine and provided a separate application menu. Once the app was installed you could run it by clicking on the icon without having to load a browser and enter a URL. 

chromeapplauncher

 

As a developer the only cost was having to conform to the packaged apps API and prepare a manifest. It seemed like a good idea, but at the time there were other choices for packaging web apps and the rise of Firefox OS provided a really attractive alternative. Now Firefox OS is more or less dead and now it seems so are Chrome Packaged apps, at least as far as the desktop is concerned:

"We will be removing support for packaged and hosted apps from Chrome on Windows, Mac, and Linux over the next two years.

...

Starting in late 2016, newly-published Chrome apps will only be available to users on Chrome OS. Existing Chrome apps will remain accessible on all platforms, and developers can continue to update them."
 
In the second half of 2017, the Chrome Web Store will no longer show Chrome apps on Windows, Mac, and Linux, but will continue to surface extensions and themes. In early 2018, users on these platforms will no longer be able to load Chrome apps.

 

Because Google never consistently assigned a name to Chrome Apps that were launched from the desktop, the announcement refers to them as "Chrome Packaged Apps" which is confusing. Some people have been worried that the curtailment might apply to Chrome Apps running under the Chrome browser or Chrome OS - it doesn't.

chromeIcon

 

Google claims that less than 1% if users on Windows, Mac and Linux actively use Chrome packaged apps. 

I really think that Google needs to teach people what percentages are all about because 1% of a very big number, i.e. all the computer users on Windows, Mac and Linux, is still a very big number - more than enough to cause a disturbance in the force.

Google is not letting down just a few lonely eccentrics experimenting with an esoteric technology. This is a very big number in absolute terms spun to look as irrelevant as possible. 

In any case, if you have spent time implementing a Chrome app, you are going to be very upset.

What to do?

The answers that are offered are fairly silly.

You can build a web app - of course you won't get the launcher support and there are no extended Google Chrome APIs. 

You can build an extension for Chrome that works with just your web site that acts as a backend for the app - this isn't going to be popular with users or developers.

You can build an extension pure and simple - not sure why this is even suggested as a good idea because if this had been the way to go why bother creating a Chrome App in the first place.

The final suggestion is to build a native app. Yes this does seem to be a serious suggestion. It goes on to suggest using Electron or NW.js, which are great ways to build cross-platform apps using JavaScript and HTML, but they are not simple and they don't run under Chrome OS. 

In fact, to be brutally honest, all of the suggested ways of rescuing the lost app boil down to "start over using a different technology". 

You have to admit that it is advice that always works.

The real puzzle is why has Google abandoned this low maintenance cost feature?  

The suggestion from the blog announcement is:

"As we continue our efforts to simplify Chrome, we believe it’s time to begin the evolution away from the Chrome apps platform."

This makes little sense either as we can all suggest things that could be removed from Chrome to make it simpler - how about JavaScript support? There has to be some other reason for not wanting Chrome apps on the desktop. 

In the bigger context Google is busy unifying Android and Chrome OS. You can run Android Apps on Chrome OS. Perhaps allowing Chrome apps to run on other operating systems is giving too much advantage away. 

It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does fit in with Google's policy of killing technologies it has nothing to benefit from. In a broader perspective, Chrome Apps have never been a very good idea in the sense that they take a standard technology - HTML and JavaScript - and instantly make it non-standard so that they won't run without infrastructure provided by Google.

Seen from this point of view you might have imagined that Google would want to keep it!

chromeapplauncher

More Information

From Chrome Apps to the Web

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