Google has begun putting flesh on the bones of a skeleton it's been building to add Google Now to Chrome and Chrome OS.
The latest raw builds of the browser have an option in the about:flags panel to enable the Google Now system. "Sadly, we still can't play with it yet because the Google Now server URL still remains secret," commented Chrome watcher Francois Beaufort, who spotted the change.
The infrastructure dovetails with a new rich notification system being built into Chrome and Chrome OS, a mechanism that will let developers use HTML-formatted pop-ups. That will be handy for Google Now notifications, which often display graphics like maps and weather icons.
CNET reader Michael Ortiz has noticed the new notifications system on Chrome's Canary build, which has been tested some by Google servers but isn't up to the maturity level even of the Chrome developer version.
"I just got the latest update for the Chrome Canary build and it came with a Chrome OS-like notification center that's now in my taskbar. Now all of my notifications both past and present can be seen there if I missed them," he said via e-mail.
The Google Now integration thus far works only on Windows and Chrome OS, according to the Chromium patch that added the feature.
Google Now is key to Google's attempt to transform from a search engine to a purveyor of personalized online services. Google Now raises the profile of those services by weaving them into people's daily lives and, if Google can match its ambitions, supplying people with the information they want or need before they even have to ask for it.
The addition of Google Now to Chrome and Chrome OS bridges a divide between Android and Google's browser-based software foundation. Google Now is available in Google's mobile OS as a way to bring information to people's attention even if they haven't specifically set an alarm or calendar reminder, for example. Google Now can prompt Android users about nearby restaurants, remind them when to leave to catch a flight, and offer navigation directions to locations they've searched for.
Google executives have mentioned the idea of converging Chrome and Android for years, but there hasn't been much overt progress beyond high-level work to ensure both are as good as possible at delivering Google services. However, the touch screen in the flagship Chrome OS device lowers the barrier a little, and Chrome chief Sundar Pichai said in February he expects Chrome OS tablets.
One convenient aspect to the convergence is Google's emphasis on synchronizing settings. It can be frustrating to have to clear the same notifications away from phones, tablets, and Web sites, especially with so many apps constantly vying for users' attention. Chrome notifications could be another place to receive the same messages.
However, Google is working on synchronizing notifications. Those who don't want it in Chrome can disable notification sync through the about:flags interface.