Hands on with the Chrome Web Store

Browser, meet desktop. Desktop, meet your future.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I spent some time this morning in the Chrome Web Store, announced yesterday along with information about its Chrome OS. I walked away with two thoughts: "Nice work, Google!" and "This is the sort of thing that will lock me into Chrome."

I've used Chrome for some time, quite happily. As with most browsers, 4-5 windows with 10-15 tabs a piece works well for my ADD-addled brain and the workspace I like to keep available to myself all of the time, but it eats up memory faster than you would believe. Chrome, particular on my Mac, seems to eat up resources especially quickly, so I've spent time recently with Safari, Firefox, Opera, and even IE in a Windows 7 virtual machine.

I keep coming back to Chrome for its easy interface, integrated search, handy extensions, impressive speed, and integrated security/stability tools (especially Chrome 8). If I had any doubt, though, about my browser of choice, Chrome's Web Store just took care of them. The Web Store looks much like the Google Apps Marketplace (that's a good thing; I wish their Android Marketplace would take a lesson from it), and it's easy to find a variety of free and paid applications that work right within your browser.

Once you install a few apps, a blank browser window or tab brings you to a dashboard of your Apps, as well as some of your recently closed and most popular pages.

Looks kind of like a desktop, doesn't it? Interestingly, the Google Apps "app" (not installed here - this image is small enough) is nothing more than a link to your Google Apps. However, because the link has an icon associated with it now, it contributes to the feel of applications that can be launched right from your good old Windows desktop. Only that desktop is your browser and we've just seen a decent picture of how Google is going to pull of its Chrome OS.

More utilitarian apps (one to take screen shots, for example), go into a Chrome toolbar with other extensions (also available now through the Chrome Web Store).

While there are many beta snags (the TweetDeck app, for example, repeatedly failed to load all of my columns and "Awesome Screenshot: Capture and Annotate (which really does have awesome tools for inline editing of screenshots) could only capture about a third of the areas it was supposed to), the basics of a web app store are polished.

To be honest, until I tried it, I didn't completely "get it." What sort of "web apps" were out there, just waiting to be integrated with my browser that didn't already exist as a rich website that could just be opened in a new tab? I spend most of my time in a browser anyway and when I'm not, I'm using something like PhotoShop or Captivate; these are obviously not going to run in a browser tab.

However, for those times when you are in a browser (or if you are using Chrome OS), a web app store allows your web experience to be richer and means that more of what you do can be done natively in that same browser. And when you're Google and trying to convince people that they should buy Chrome OS notebooks and never leave their browser, you better give them something to do inside that browser.

In this, the Chrome Web Store absolutely succeeds. Even at launch, beta issues and all, there are games, productivity applications, drawing applications, and even a slick "Window Shopping" app from Amazon.

The Window Shopping app has an embedded navigation button that literally lets you walk...I mean scroll...along a virtual representation of what would be Amazon's window displays if it was a brick and mortar estabishment.

There's already a lot of utility (and a lot of fun) in the Web Store. The world just might be ready for Chrome OS after all. And I'm officially even more wedded to Chrome (the browser) than I ever was before.

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