Google (GOOG +0.6%), which has offered Chrome apps for 3 years (through the Chrome Web Store), is now adding support for apps that can work offline and (though still running on Chrome) outside of a browser window, as well leverage a PC's USB ports, camera, and local storage.
Importantly, the apps will not only run on Windows and Mac OS systems, but also on Chrome OS hardware (while syncing between devices across platforms). Thus, Google is addressing what has arguably been the biggest complaint about Chrome OS (an inability to run local/offline apps).
Chrome VP Brian Rakowski: "We want to make Chrome OS a full-fledged operating system ... We want to make sure there are no reasons it’s not the right product for everyone." Though currently PC-only, Google also wants to bring Chrome apps to mobile.
In spite of its shortcomings to date, Chrome OS has made modest traction against Windows (MSFT +0.6%): earlier this year, NPD estimated the OS had 20%-25% of the sub-$300 U.S. laptop market, and Gartner gave it a 4%-5% share of the broader U.S. laptop market. The education market has been a major buyer.
Google's latest moves make Chrome OS a bigger low-end threat to Windows at a time when consumer PC sales are nosediving. However, Windows should maintain a big edge in available apps for a long time.