If this article catches your attention, then you have probably heard of Google Chrome, Google's web browser. Recently it has been updated to version 9 and with that update, it has been further integrated with the relatively recent Chrome Web Store. What is this Chrome Web Store? If you are unsure, you can read up on it after the break.
A Brief Background:
Before I start discussing the Chrome Web Store, I think I need to cover one or two other topics briefly. If you are already very familiar with the web and its inner workings, I apologize and ask that you skip ahead a bit. Most of the web was, and still is, displayed using HTML and Flash. For the most part, HTML was only used for relatively simple things such as text, images, hyperlinks, and other generic website features. Flash, on the other hand, is one of the more popular tools for animations, video, and interactive webpages. This setup worked, but was far from perfect. Flash is owned by Adobe, which has caused a varity of problems. Flash has suffered for many years from slow performance and poor security. Abode was often very slow addressing security issues, but since Flash was not open source, nothing could be done about it. To read up on more specifics you can check out Flash and HTML on wikipedia.
To address some of the issues with Flash as well as handle the recent explosion of video, animations, and games online, HTML 5 is being developed. HTML 5 specifies new tags in it that can handle audio, video, and vector graphics. Unlike Flash, each web browser handles how to display the information described in the HTML. This allows the developers who wrote your favorite web browser, to better control the performance and the security of videos and games. Google is very big into open standards for the web, so Chrome, Google's web browser, quickly had the ability to display HTML 5. This finally brings us to apps and Chrome's Web Store.
The Web Store:
Through HTML 5 and graphics acceleration, more impressive web applications have become prevalent. Google attempts to both promote and embrace these programs with their Chrome Web Store. The Chrome Web Store offers a variety of programs and plugins that work with Google Chrome to bring some of these programs to you. The store is broken up into three sections, apps, extensions, and themes. Things in the Apps category seem to be any web based application. The Apps section of the store has everything from productive tools like gmail and Google Docs, to games like Runescape. This video from the Web Store explains what exactly counts as an app.
I'm not sure exactly how I feel about Apps. There is a lot of cool apps available through the store, but I feel like the integration into Chrome is a little silly. "Installing" these apps seems to just place a bookmark into the new tab screen. A slightly more interesting feature of these bookmarks is the ability to create shortcuts on the desktop, the start menu, and the taskbar. You have a variety of options when opening the apps. When opened full screen or in a new window, the webpage will display without any tabs or menus. This makes the app feel more like a real program and less like a webpage.
The extensions section of the store provides a wide array of tools that improve Chrome. Like Firefox plugins, extensions do a variety of useful things. Two of my favorite extensions are the Google Voice and Gmail extensions. The Google Voice extension allows you to make and recieve texts through Google Voice without being on the Google Voice webpage. Likewise, the Gmail extension will notify you of new emails even when you are not on the Gmail webpage. If you are still confused, here is another video provided by Google.
The final section of the store is a collection of themes. Themes allow you to customize the look of Chrome. They can change the background of the new tab's page as well as the look of Chrome's buttons and menus. Once more, Google has provided a handy dandy video that helps explain what themes are.
At the moment, a lot of the apps, extensions, and themes are free, but there are a few that cost money. As time goes on, I think that there will be a lot more apps that cost money and that the Web Store will become something akin to the Apple App Store. I think that the current iteration of the Chrome Web Store is more interesting for what it represents than what it provides. Extensions and themes, and even a lot of the apps, were already around and available before the store was created. What is interesting though is what the Chrome store indicates for the future of the web and Chrome OS. Since your apps are linked to your Google account, it provides a simple way to gain access to all of your favorite apps where ever you are. It is easy to imagine that in the future all of your files, in addition to your applicaitons, could be linked to an account and accessed from any location. This would be like being able to access your home computer from any computer with an internet connection. This seems even more likely if you are running Chrome OS, where all of your applications and a lot of your files will be online anyway. If you haven't already, you should go the Chrome Web Store and check out some of the apps for yourself.