Are you using Google Chrome as your web browser yet? If you're not, you should be. If you are, then you have a brand new way to find awesome web apps. Google just released a new online store called the Chrome Web Store. It still has a long way to go, but I think it's a huge step in the right direction for Google, and I encourage you to try it out.
So what is the Chrome Web Store? It's basically just a collection of web-based applications that you can browse in Chrome and "Install" on your computer. You might be wondering how installing a web app works since they're not actually running on your computer. The simple answer is that you're not really installing anything, you're just saving a bookmark to the webapp on your "new tab" screen in chrome. This might seem like a stupid abuse of the word "install" but I think it's actually a very clever way to solve a common problem with web apps. Which brings us to...
What I like about the Chrome Web Store
Because web apps are so new, many users don't really understand how they work. They understand that they have to go to web sites to sign up for a service, but they then assume that the application is installed on their computer somehow. I've dealt with a number of customer questions at LAS where people are sure they installed our software (which isn't possible) and now they can't seem to find it on their computer.
What the chrome web store does is clear up this confusion by adopting old-school terminology with new-school technology. If people want to think they're installing apps on their computers, I'm willing to play along. With the Chrome Web Store, these non-savvy users can get the familiar experience of shopping at a store and installing an application, and there's a nice big link to the app in chrome so that they can always find it again. This may seem really worthless to you, but as a software developer, I think it's a very cool approach.
The other great thing about the Chrome Web Store is that it changes how web apps are discovered. Most things you buy online are very easy to find and evaluate because of the powerful search and extensive reviews from sites like Amazon. If you want a new tv, just go on Amazon (or any number of other sites) and compare all the different options. But web apps don't have any sort of online marketplace. If you want to try new accounting software, you have to do a Google search for "Accounting Software" and hope that you like what you see. There are no trustworthy reviews. There are no real comparison tools. This leads to a broken ecosystem where the rich get richer. The established companies are already at the top of search results, so that's all anyone ever sees when they search.
Now with the Chrome Web Store, web apps finally have a real marketplace. The quality of a product is now more important than a company's marketing budget because users can compare many different apps from the web store, and see (relatively) impartial user reviews. It's a very exciting direction for small software companies and I think it will really improve the quality of software.
One last thing I want to mention is that the Chrome Web Store might be able to turn the tide in the web-app-vs-native-app battle. As I've written about before, I really hate how Apple has convinced everyone to use native (i.e. non-web) apps. Apple is doing this so that they can take a cut of all software sales on their platforms, but it's really a bad thing for consumers. The Google Web Store offers (or will offer at some point) all the simplicity and functionality of the Apple App Store, while maintaining the openness of the web.
What I don't like
Well, there's not much that I don't like about the Chrome Web Store, but there's a lot of room for growth. This store is clearly still in the early stages, and it could use a little more polish. For example, the categories they use to organize software are incredibly broad and the search isn't very sophisticated, so it's not always easy to find the software you're looking for. I'm sure Google will improve on this over time.
Additionally, because the apps in the store are really just bookmarks to existing websites, it's pretty difficult to explain what the Chrome Web Store is. The benefits I described should make sense to developers, but most people (including many tech-savvy friends of mine) just don't get the point. This can be improved by offering more integration options between the apps and the store (such as one-click signups for most services) but for now the store is really just a collection of links. I still love it, but I'm not sure users will see the benefits right away.
I encourage you to start using the Chrome Web Store. Seriously. Right now. For the time being it's a great way to find new web apps. In the future, it may very well make software as a whole more open and accessible to consumers. So please, play your part, and give it a shot: chrome.google.com/webstore