The Chrome Web Store: fancy icons and not much more

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Listen, I'm a geek, right? I love new tech. Whether it's a cool new web service or a nifty new gadget, I want to be there on day one just to tear into something new and interesting. I can entertain myself for hours poking around in the iTunes App Store or the Android Market, digging up interesting apps and messing around with them. I guess I'm a little app-crazy.

So when Google mentioned that its Chrome Web Store was going live yesterday, I was beside myself. I kept refreshing that page every ten minutes or so, waiting for "Coming Soon" to morph into "Welcome!" When it did I dove in, "installing" apps left and right. I was like a kid in a candy store.

And then I realized that all the candy was liver-flavored.

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The fact is, the Chrome Web Store is basically just a link repository. When you "install" most apps, it just puts a bookmark on Chrome's Home page (collapsing your "Most Visited" section from thumbnails to text links in the process, though you can expand them again). It's a pretty bookmark in the form of a colorful icon, granted. But once you click on it, you're whisked off to some website somewhere. In most cases if you then copy the URL of that page and paste it into another browser, the "web app" will work fine. For instance, the New York Times Chrome App just takes you to http://www.nytimes.com/chrome/, a page that works in Firefox and IE as well as Chrome.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the way this works, but it feels a little underwhelming, given all the noise Google has made about the Web Store during its run-up to release. And there are exceptions. The TweetDeck folks have produced ChromeDeck and it really does feel like an app that runs in the browser (of course, Seesmic did that ages ago without needing a store to do it). Launch that (and it doesn't zip you off to a URL somewhere) and set Chrome to "Full Screen" mode and you might fool someone into thinking you're running Chrome OS. It's a decent Twitter/Facebook/Buzz client, too. There's a silly little Flash game called The Fancy Pants Adventure that loads amazingly quickly and also stays put. So it isn't all just links.

I acknowledge that I'm being a little whiny here. The real difference between launching ChromeDeck and launching, say, the New York Times app, is that in the latter case there's text in the address bar of the browser and in the former case there isn't. Functionally there's no other difference. It just seems almost like hubris when Google offers a "Google Reader" app that, when launched, takes you to http://www.google.com/reader. We need a web app for that? That's the same link that's at the top of my Gmail page!

I'm not really sure what I was expecting from the Chrome Web Store, but it was something more exciting than what we got. I'll admit I didn't try any paid apps. I did a few trials of paid apps and they require that you log into your Google account, so I expect paid versions work the same way. And to be fair, these are early days for the Chrome Web Store. During its Chrome Event yesterday Google claimed that these "Apps" will offer enhanced functionality over the basic web page of a product or service, so maybe things will get more interesting in the future.

For now though, my reaction to the Chrome Web Store is an apathetic yawn.

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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