Chrome native apps split the browser world
Written by Ian Elliot   
Monday, 19 September 2011

It was clear at the last beta of Chrome that soon native apps would make their way into the next stable release and then into the Chrome Web App store. Now that day has arrived and it reveals a growing chasm between the so-called standards-based browsers.

Google Chrome now supports Native apps in its stable release along with the Web Audio API introduced in last month's beta. This means that native apps have now gone mainstream and you can begin to assume that if a user has Chrome they are capable of running native apps. This opens up new possibilities and opens up the growing chasm between Chrome and the other standards-supporting browsers.

Native applications, based on the NaCl framework, are a Google/Chrome specific technology. Other browsers could support the Native App NaCl framework, but they don't. Apps based on HTML5 and JavaScript should run in any browser and so the Chrome Web App store isn't particularly divisive, until it includes native apps.

Even though a Chrome Web app cannot be used with another browser as it is based on HTML5/JavaScript, it isn't difficult to convert to another platform. However, for a native app there is no other platform because no other browser supports anything like native apps. You cannot take an NaCl app writing in C/C++ and port it to another browser. What is worse is that the Web Store doesn't distinguish between native and standard web apps, so blurring the line between the two.



So Chrome native apps make it possible to write applications that do difficult tasks like sound and video editing and 3D games. These all provide Chrome with an edge over the other browsers.

The first native apps are already in the Web Store - SodaSynth - and they do things that simple HTML based apps can't.

You might already find the message, "Sorry, we don't support your browser just yet. You'll need Google Chrome to install apps, extensions and themes", appearing if you visit the Chrome web store with another browser. This is something of a depressing message if you are hoping for a standards-based web, but it is the Chrome store after all. The difference now is that there are apps in the Chrome store that are not easy to port to any other browser, and this is a big split.

The solution probably isn't for Chrome to abandon native apps in the spirit of web standards, but for the native app to become a standard and become widely supported. Ironically this is only likely to happen if native apps achieve their purpose and give Chrome such an advantage that it roars ahead of the pack to become the browser you must have. Then the others will play catch up.




More information

Native client in the Chrome Web App store

Chrome beta adds native client

Portable Native Client

LLVM bitcode

Native Client


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Last Updated ( Monday, 19 September 2011 )