Google slips Chrome stub into Microsoft's app store

It tried to plant an installer for the Chrome browser but was quickly booted from the store. A Chrome engineer complained that Microsoft 'denies Chrome the tools it needs to protect users' to explain the maneuver.

Google's attempt this week to plant an installer for Chrome in the Microsoft Store failed when Microsoft yanked it from the Windows 10 app market.

The "app" Google submitted Tuesday - and which Microsoft's review process greenlighted - was more a glorified link than a true application. Users who downloaded, installed and ran it on their Windows 10 device simply saw a window open with a button marked "DOWNLOAD CHROME." Clicking the button downloaded the x86 or x64 version of Chrome for Windows, not, as some expected, a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app suitable for Windows 10 or its spin-off, the locked-down Windows 10 S that runs only UWP programs.

Within hours, the applet had vanished, pulled by Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash. company did not reply to a request for comment, but told other news outlets Tuesday that the Chrome installer had gotten the hook because it "didn't provide a quality/valuable experience" and "it violate[d] our Microsoft Store policies."

Sources familiar with Google's plans said that the maneuver was meant to stifle the Chrome copycats the company thinks mislead Microsoft Store patrons into downloading worthless apps.

Yet that left unexplained the real purpose Google had - Chrome wannabes have not overwhelmed the store - or why the company thought the applet would pass muster and make it into the store, or getting that far, that it would remain unnoticed by Microsoft for any amount of time.

One motivation was forwarded by a Google software engineer, Chris Blume, who tweeted, "Microsoft denies Chrome the tools it needs to protect users when installed from the Windows Store. ([By the way], they grant those tools to Edge.) So, we made a mini-app to help users get the full, safe version of Chrome. It was pulled."

Later, after others asked him what Microsoft withheld from Google that prevented the latter's developers from crafting a UWP Chrome app, Blume replied, "Multiple processes is one example. Chrome uses this to sandbox the renderer so a compromised renderer can't do harm to your system."

Others didn't care for Google's move, describing it as hypocritical. "My only issue with this is why you all can call Microsoft out on their restrictions but refuse to do so for iOS," tweeted someone identified only as Code. "This alone sucks almost all of Google's credibility."

Code was referring to the limitations Apple puts on rival browser makers that require competitors, like Google and Mozilla, Firefox's maker, to use the same rendering and JavaScript engines as Safari to gain access to the App Store. Microsoft has had similar rules in place for browsers in its e-market, which compel others to use Edge's engines.

These restrictions have kept Safari dominant on iOS, even though both Firefox and Chrome have created mimics that look like their namesakes but are actually Safari under the hood. Microsoft has done the same as Apple, but in its case rivals have not bothered. The reason has been simple: Windows 10 users can download Chrome, install and run it, just as they can virtually any other x86 or x64 application - from Microsoft's own Access database and Adobe's Photoshop to the Quicken personal finance program and the WinZip archiving and compression utility.

(Replacing Edge as Windows 10's default with Chrome is more difficult because it requires several steps.)

Although Microsoft has been criticized by browser adversaries over Windows 10's practices -- Vivaldi and Mozilla have each blasted Redmond for restoring Edge as the default after feature upgrades. But none of the major players has bothered to build a UWP browser for Windows 10.

The work just hasn't been worth it, not when traditional Windows desktop applications run on Windows 10. And not when Edge poses no threat.

According to analytics vendor Net Applications, Edge accounted for just 13% of the browsers run on Windows 10 in November. (It's not possible to estimate Chrome's share of Windows 10 using public data, but it was the primary browser on about 69% of all Windows PCs that month.)

With those statistics in mind, it's possible that Chrome's raid on the app store was nothing more than a poke in Microsoft's eye, an unsubtle reminder that Edge has failed to replicate Internet Explorer's former supremacy, that IE itself has fallen on hard times, and that Microsoft's app ecosystem remains wanting.

It's possible that Chrome will, at some point, have to eat crow. But that would happen only if Windows 10 S, the UWP-only operating system, becomes the leading player, or at the least a major one.

For now, Google has no reason to help Microsoft by making a UWP Chrome, because doing so would only aid its opponent's efforts to promote Windows 10 S. That's contrary to Google's interests. It has its own Chrome OS to push, and the revenue-generating Google productivity software to tout on that platform.

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