This month’s column isn’t strictly about the Android operating system, but it’s about a Google product – the Chrome web browser. So it sort of fits. If you haven’t used the Chrome web browser yet, download it free at: www.google.com/chrome.
Recently, for a startup company I’m working with, I created a Chrome web app. It’s a very simple one; it just takes the user to the startup’s website so that they can log in and send out work schedules. But it made me curious about what else is available as a Chrome web app or extension. This becomes important if you want to use Chrome OS, since that’s pretty much just the Chrome browser and apps and extensions, anyway.
Web apps and extensions are accessed by selecting the “New Tab” plus sign-in the tabs area. You’ll see some things there already; Entanglement and Poppit (two games), and the web store, which is where you can get new web apps and extensions. You need to have the latest version of Chrome to see these, of course.
What’s the Difference?
So… what’s the difference between Web Apps and Extensions? Web apps, according to Google are “applications you can run inside your browser with a dedicated user interface and, typically, rich user interaction”. Web apps, therefore, are nothing more than interactive websites at this point in time. Google’s intention is to formalize “the web app concept in a way that will be familiar to anyone who’s used apps on a smartphone”. So, a web app basically is a link to an interactive application on the Internet. That’s what I built, and it’s a pretty good thing, actually. You get to have an app out on the web, where you can use whatever language you want with whatever power you want, and yet access it from an icon with one click.
Extensions, on the other hand, often extend the functionality of the Chrome browser and websites viewed with the browser. They are not limited to providing their functionality on a specific website, either. Compared to apps, extensions cut across websites and web apps; they are usually in effect across all websites (though some are site-specific). Apps don’t combine with other apps in this way; they run standalone, like any regular website.
Yeah… that’s clear…
So, in order to better understand what that’s all about, I went looking for apps and extensions to play with. Of course, the first one I found was Angry Birds, so my search was derailed for a few hours. Well, days. There are a lot of games available in the Google Chrome Web Store. Board games, card games, action games, role-playing games, and many more.
For those of you who prefer education, there are plenty of apps, particularly for the younger set. Hours of baby sitting fun. There are also apps for news, weather, shopping, communications, and others. Extensions include blogging tools, shopping, sports, and more.
So, what’s the difference between apps, extensions, and bookmarks (which have been around forever)? Ummm… err… not much, when you get right down to it. Not from the end user’s point of view. The big difference, of course, is the Web Store . With bookmarks, you find them or are told about them, but it’s mainly serendipity that brings you to something interesting. The Web Store (which, of course, is not new to Chrome – or to Apple, either) has all of its products grouped. So if you’re looking for something, it’s easier to find than asking a bunch of friends or searching the Web and hoping you’re going to find something you like.
Another nice thing about the Web Store is that so many of the extensions and apps are free. That means you can install them, play with them, decide if you like them, and then keep them or dump them when you’re done. Having them all available on one screen, with a distinctive icon for each, makes getting at them simple and fun.
One thing people are always asking is, “Can you replace a regular laptop with a Chrome OS laptop?” That depends on what you use the laptop for, but if you’re that mythical person who just does mail, light word processing documents, and web browsing, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” – right out of the box. For many others, the apps and extensions will provide you with the additional functionality you need. Will it serve as your only computer? Not likely, but it will be a great second computer for most users.
Oh… There is one big difference between web apps and extensions: Users who want to install web apps need a (free) Google account to do so. Extensions, on the other hand, can be installed without an account.