In the last few weeks I happened to come across Chrome web-apps. This feature of Chrome 6 obsoletes the Create Application Shortcut feature and replaces it with a more featured (or at the very least better thought-out) system for hosting a web-application within the browser. Just like Chrome Extensions, the web-applications are packaged in .CRX files and are installed using the Extension Manager (chrome://extensions)
At their heart, the web-apps can run in one of two modes:
- Server-less App – All of the content required for the web-app is self-contained within the package. All code and images are stored on the local machine, and there’s no network access required by the plugin. These plugins can be installed by anyone, from anywhere
- Hosted App – On the other hand, if you have a website/webapp already written, you can easily package up the relevant URLs, give the app a few hi-res icons and you’re good to go. The only catch here is that the only domains able to serve the extension are those registered in the app itself.
Upon finding out about this feature, I found the two default apps which come with Chrome in the %AppData%LocalGoogleChromeApplication<version>Resources* folder. Here you’ll find apps for GMail, GDocs and GCal. To install them, just open up the Extension Manager and select Load Unpacked Extension. The new icons will be shown on your New Tab screen.
Recently, i’ve become a big fan of Evernote, and have been using it a fair amount for both taking notes and just sharing content with myself across several computers. I figured it was an opportune moment to create an Evernote web-app extension for Chrome. It was pretty easy too – just whack in the right URLs and create a nice transparent icon.
Installing the plugins:
Firstly, you need to be running Chrome 6 (any build from the dev channel), so it’s immediately not suited to non-techs (at the time of writing). Secondly, you need to enable app mode in Chrome by running it with the –enable-apps command line option. Easiest way of doing this is to modify the shortcut you use to run Chrome (here’s a more detailed description of enabling apps in Chrome)
Now as a developer, it was easy for me to create this extension and install it myself. Providing it to others, however is not so simple. As mentioned previously, hosted app extensions can only be installed by downloading them from the website for which the app is written. This means to use my Evernote plugin, it would ideally need to be hosted on www.evernote.com. There are other ways though, and you can install the plugin by right-clicking the file and saving it to disk and then drag-drop the extension into Chrome from where you saved it.
Below i’ve attached the extensions for both Evernote and a quick one I whipped up for Google Reader. I’m looking forward to creating more of these 🙂