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How to turn your favorite sites into web apps (and why)

This is the main reason why I still use Google Chrome.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Web browser open on laptop
Lesia_G/Getty Images

Is your web browser overflowing with tabs? Do you have trouble discerning which tab is which? I typically have a ton of tabs open in my web browser, so adding another tab can get messy. 

I could use tab management, but not every browser handles that feature well. On top of that, there are some sites I'd prefer to work with as a more traditional app in its own window that I can access quickly from my desktop menu.

Also: My favorite keyboard shortcut of all time (and it works on every browser)

If that sounds like you (and you use the Chrome browser), there's a feature that's been around for some time that makes it easy for you to create a web app from the sites you use. Before you get confused, you're not actually building a web app. Instead, Chrome can turn any site you use into what appears like an application, isolated from the browser, in its own window. The site is still served up and rendered in Chrome, only missing many of the bits that would identify the window as a web browser.

Think about it: instead of opening your browser and then opening yet another tab for the site in question, you simply click on your desktop menu and open the web app for that site. The site in question will open in its own window, minus all the typical browser features (no toolbars, bookmarks, or address bars… just a window and the 'app'). 

Also: The best browsers for privacy

There are only two reasons why I still have Chrome installed: the ability to create standalone apps, and the capability to cover Chrome when necessary for editorial articles. Even if I didn't have to write about Chrome, I'd still have it installed for this app-creation feature alone (because there are still sites that perform better in Chrome than any other browser).

So, how do you do use this excellent feature? Let me show you.

How to create your first web app with Chrome

What you'll need: The only thing you'll need is the Chrome browser installed on any desktop operating system (as this feature doesn't work on the mobile version). Now, let's create our first web app.

1. Open Chrome and navigate to a website

The first thing to do is open Chrome and navigate to the site you want to create as a web app. 

Also: How to easily see your open Chrome tabs on other computers

Say, for example, you run your own WordPress blog, you might point Chrome to http://URL/wp-admin (where URL is the domain of your blog).

2. Create the web app

With the site loaded in the browser, click the three-button menu in the top-right corner of the Chrome window.

Select More tools > Create shortcut.

The Chrome browser menu.

Creating your first web app in Chrome.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Name your web app

In the resulting popup, you'll want to do two things. First, give the shortcut a name. This is how it will be labeled in your desktop menu, so make sure to give it a memorable (but short) name. 

Also: How to take a full-page screenshot in Google Chrome

Next, you'll want to click the checkbox for Open as window. What this step does is strip away all the features that are typically found in a browser window (toolbars, address bars, etc.). After you do that, click Create and you're done.

The Chrome Shortcut creation window.

Make sure to give your web app a memorable name, so you can find it in your desktop menu.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

4. Check that the site opens in its own window

After clicking Create, the site will open in its own window, where you can use it as though it was its own app on your desktop computer. 

Also: Google beefs up Chrome app with four new search features

When you close it, you can reopen the app from your desktop menu by searching for the name you gave it when creating the shortcut.

A WordPress web app created by Chrome.

Using the WordPress admin dashboard as a web app makes perfect sense.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

And that's all there is to creating your first web app with Chrome. 

Also: How to run websites as apps on Linux

I use this feature regularly when I don't want to clog up my tab bar, and for special sites that I use that don't require a traditional browser interface. Give this feature a try and see if you don't start using more and more web apps on your desktop.

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