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Differences: Apps vs Extensions

Google Chrome Web Store browser add-ons: apps vs. extensions. What's the difference?


Do you get Chrome apps and extensions mixed up like we do? In short, remember it this way: apps are maps (or URLs) to interactive web pages (or web apps), and extensions extend the functionality of the Chrome web browser, or the Google Chrome OS, as a whole (or universally).
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99%+ of all apps and extensions are distributed via Google's Web Store (or come pre-installed on your device). Google's Web Store provides a reasonable level of protection against malicious developers (via enforcement of their "Developer Terms of Service" and "Program Policies" guidelines, complemented by user reporting).

We've used a few extensions from outside of the Google Web Store framework in the past (but realized the additional security risks by doing so). We're not going into it here, but a search for "how to install extensions not from chrome store" will give you more info. In general, it's not worth the risk using apps and extensions from outside of the Web Store, and it's best to just search for an alternative or wait until the developer can get his program inline with the standard policies. Often, you won't realize the reason it wasn't available in the Web Store... until you experience a security breach of some type.

The Chrome web browser and the Web Store are both owned by Google, so they have a big interest in "promoting" products that will help Chrome become the premier operating system for the masses. The extensions are (usually) made and maintained by developers outside of Google.

Apps vs Extensions: What's the difference? Google's Web Store extensions and apps are easily confused with one another. If you want to read the whole spiel on how they differ, read Google's official explanation of "extensions" and "apps".

Apps (or Web Apps): We like to think that "apps" are maps because they're generally stand-alone links to interactive web pages (or apps that run in your browser window); like ZOHO, Pandora, Pixlr, Gmail, or what have you. The Chrome game apps are another example of interactive sites. You could get to these same interactive web pages via a simple bookmark, but the web app links are generally accessed via fancy icons in the Google "App Launcher" which is located on the shelf (or taskbar) via a "Rubik's Cube" looking icon (bottom left corner of your screen) in Google's Chrome OS. Note: some Google web apps include more standard functionality than your average bookmark can provide, like the ability to launch apps from you Chromebook shelf (or taskbar). Other "extended functionality" examples would be running Pixlr or PicMonkey as apps (vs just going straight to their web pages via a bookmark) makes incorporating them as your Google Drive default photo editors an option. There are many other Apps that include Google Drive "open with" functionality. Apps generally also load more quickly than bookmarked URLs, plus many include advanced "offline" capabilities as well.

Extensions: Just remember "extensions" extend the functionality of Chrome, usually across all the websites you visit, for example, the "Google Chrome to Phone Extension" adds a function to send links or selected text from web pages you visit to your Android device. Others are more site specific, like the YouTube extensions we featured previously which work mainly just on Google's youtube.com pages. We like to think of extensions as mini-software program bundles that add increased functionality to the websites you frequent. Most include an icon that installs to the right of your omnibox (URL or address bar) on the Chrome web browser. Also, extensions don't necessarily rely on a live Internet connection as much as web apps do. 

If you want to read even more (apps vs extensions information) "straight from the horse's mouth" visit the 2010 developer.chrome.com article by X-Googler Michael Mahemoff.

Finally, if the line between apps and extensions still seems a little blurry, that's because it is. When people first get into the Chrome experience they're generally concerned about offline apps and extensions, but make no mistake about it, the Chrome OS is a cloud computing platform and if you don't have confidence in being able to connect when you need to, you'll generally be limited in your ability to take full advantage of what Chrome and the Chrome OS have to offer, which is basically your personal Google optimized terminal into the auto-updating cloud based super-computer.