Chrome's killer apps
Anyone who says you can’t get real work done on a Web browser—or in a browser-based operating system, for that matter—hasn't seen some of the latest Chrome apps.
Rising above glorified bookmarks, the cream of Google’s Chrome Web Store can stand toe-to-toe with desktop software. More are offering offline functionality, too. Coming soon: 'packaged apps' that look and act more like traditional software.
Finding Chrome gems can be tricky. The store's layout is chaotic and provides no easy way to distinguish good from bad. These 15 Chrome apps rock, whether you’re working on a Windows PC, a Mac, or a Chromebook.
The app version of Gmail, Gmail Offline is available from the Chrome Web Store. It has improved dramatically since its 2011 debut. The app now supports Rich Text Format and attachments, and it can download your email messages from the past week or from the past month. You might even prefer Gmail Offline’s clean, tablet-like interface over the desktop version.
Photoshop diehards might scoff at Pixlr Editor, but it gets the job done for basic to intermediate drawing and image editing. Pixlr comes with various brushes and effects, and it supports layers and layer masks. You can even save and load .PSD files, if you’re coming from Photoshop. Though Pixlr doesn’t work completely offline, once you’ve opened it in your browser, the app becomes fully functional without a connection. In Chrome, consider installing the Edit in Pixlr extension, which lets you right-click and send images directly to the app.
Gripe about Twitter’s meddling all you want, TweetDeck still gives you an excellent way to scan through your timelines, mentions, and lists. Even if you’re not a power user, you may find that this app is worth installing for the way it automatically updates your timelines and for the way it notifies you when someone mentions you in a tweet. Neither feature is available from Twitter’s basic website.
Read Later Fast
If you’re planning to go offline with your laptop or Chromebook, use Read Later Fast to save articles from the Web. The app offers both the original formatting of the page and a Text View for easier reading. One word of caution: Read Later Fast also automatically installs a shopping comparison tool in your browser, but that interloper is easy to uninstall by clicking the notification on the bottom-left of the screen.
The Google Calendar app doesn’t come preinstalled with Chrome, but perhaps it should. Its best feature is that it allows you to view your appointments without an Internet connection. Just click the gear-shaped settings button near the top-right corner, and click 'Offline'.
Imo combines several messaging services—including AIM, Facebook, GChat, Skype, and Yahoo—in a single browser tab. Even if you use only one of those services, you might prefer to use Imo because of its uncluttered interface and its support for features like audio messages and file transfers.
Reditr is a more efficient way to browse the self-styled “front page of the Internet.” You can set up multiple subreddits to view on a single page, read linked article text directly in the app, and see photos by hovering your cursor over them. This may be as close as you can get to a cat picture IV drip.
Services like Catch and Evernote offer more-elaborate note-taking features, but the speed and simplicity of Google Keep make it a useful alternative. The Chrome Web app opens in a small pop-up window by default. (If you like, you can maximize it to cover the whole screen.) It automatically saves your notes for offline access.
Who says you need desktop software to edit a movie? WeVideo is an online editor that lets you combine and trim video clips and photos, add audio, and publish directly to Web services such as Google Drive and YouTube. It also includes transitions and themes for adding a little visual flair. Just bear in mind that WeVideo imposes a monthly export limit of 15 minutes and a file limit of 5GB on free accounts.
Though Google Drive’s office apps are preinstalled with Chrome and work spiffily offline, you may still want to keep Zoho Docs around. Zoho Writer has an Office-like design, complete with a ribbon interface, and Zoho Sheets offers macro support—a feature absent from Google Sheets. Zoho’s suite can also save to a wider variety of file formats, including legacy .DOC and OpenOffice .ODT.
Write Space takes the opposite approach: It’s beautiful in its simplicity. The app opens in full screen and has practically no clutter, except for an optional word count display at the bottom. You can adjust the font and background colors to your liking, and tweak the text size and page layout. Write Space also works offline, automatically saving your work, so you can close and reopen the app at will. It’s perfect for times when you want to shut out distractions and focus on getting your thoughts down on a page.
TwistedWave is a multitrack audio recorder and editor for your browser, with plenty of built-in effects and editing tools. Though the app doesn’t work offline, it can import and export directly to Google Drive and SoundCloud, saving you the hassle of uploading and downloading everything. In the app's beta phase, project length is limited to 20 minutes.
Even code monkeys can work in a Web browser with Codenvy IDE. This app permits Website creation in such formats as CSS, HTML, PHP, and Python. It also offers platform-as-a-service deployment through Amazon Web Service, Cloud Foundry, and more. It has a Design view for WYSIWYG editing and a built-in preview screen. The free version includes unlimited public projects and unlimited collaboration. Secure options are available for a monthly charge.
When your computer’s built-in calculator isn’t enough, Scientific Calculator is the ticket to advanced features such as functions, constants, and different bases. The app works offline, and you can choose to view it in a pop-up window instead of in a browser tab.
The 10 most glaring Windows Store no-shows
Microsoft’s Windows Store is finally starting to pick up steam, with recent additions such as Nokia Music,Twitter, and MLB.TV bringing big-name clout to the fledgling platform. Nevertheless, spending a week of self-imposed exile in Windows 8’s modern UI made it abundantly clear to me that some glaring omissions in Microsoft’s app catalog remain to be filled.