Google has quietly launched its Chrome App Launcher for Windows. Originally built for Chrome OS in an effort to replicate some of the taskbar or dock functionality in traditional desktop operating systems, the software acts as a hub for all your Chrome apps, allowing users to launch them quickly from the desktop.
The release covers both Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating systems, though support for OS X is in the works. The launcher will sit on your desktop taskbar and provide a quick way to access the Chrome Store, and any installed app that works with Google's browser. It also lets you manage certain privacy, network, language and download settings, and supports switching between multiple Google accounts -- so when you are signed in, Gmail will directly load your inbox, Drive will show your saved documents and files, and so on.
At first glance the App Launcher is nothing more than a collection of links that load on your browser. But with the introduction of packaged apps and desktop notifications, Google is slowly building something that could be seen as a more serious threat to established desktop platforms.
If you are unfamiliar with packaged apps, they’re essentially apps written in standard web languages, but they run outside of the browser as self contained software that can work offline and interface with hardware or network devices. Combined with desktop notifications, they look and act like any other normal app, except they are cross-platform compatible and always up to date. Two recent high-profile examples are Pocket and Wunderlist.
If packaged apps actually catch on with developers, Google’s App Launcher will go a long way easing the transition from native Windows or Mac apps to web-based Chrome apps, and perhaps convincing some users that it’s possible to live with a web-centric platform like Chrome OS. Time will tell if the strategy plays out.
For now, if you want to give the Chrome App Launcher a try, I suggest you also install a few packaged apps with it. You can find all of them under the packaged apps category in the Chrome Web Store. Aside from the two aforementioned ones, other notable examples include Reditr, 500px, Text, and Spelunkly.