Although Chrome OS and netbooks that support it won’t arrive before the first half of 2011, Google’s cloud-based repository for web apps is now live and it’s awesome. Aptly named the Chrome Web Store, it’s accessed by visiting chrome.google.com/webstore using the recently released Chrome 8 browser. The Mountain View, California-based search monster wrote the following in a blog post accompanying the launch:

The store will be featured prominently in Chrome, helping people discover great apps and developers reach millions of users around the world.

In a nutshell, the Chrome Web Store is the home to lots of free web apps and Chrome extensions and themes, in addition to paid software. Storefront, which runs entirely in Chrome, takes more than a few clues from Apple’s iTunes Store. If you’ve used iTunes, you’ll feel right at home. Visual similarities aside, Google’s web-based interface is a lot zippier than Apple’s desktop storefront.

WHO NEEDS ITUNES? The Chrome Web Store puts thousands of popular web apps at your fingertips without requiring you to ever leave your browser.  

Already the store carries a bunch of popular web apps such as the Onion News Network, eBay, and the New York Times which offers "a unique reading experience designed specifically for the Google Chrome browser." Many other well-known web and media properties have jumped on the bandwagon and already have a Chrome web app on the store.

Games and entertainment titles comprise a large portion of the warez, ranging from a free version of the popular Plants vs. Zombies game to a desktop theme for Angry Birds. We also found popular utilities like cross-platform Twitter client TweetDeck (pictured below) that now runs full screen as a Chrome web app. Also, Amazon just announced an updated Kindle for Web app that brings the full Kindle experience to any browser.

FEELS NATIVE TweetDeck web app running full screen inside Chrome.

Of course, Chrome web apps don’t necessarily install per se – they rather register with Chrome and cache critical code segments for snappy performance. Chrome’s new tab page holds icons of the apps you’ve installed, in addition to a shortcut to the Chrome Web Store. 

From this page, you can run an app full screen, inside a tab, or as a pinned tab. I especially love how the store plays nicely with Chrome’s browser sync to keep all the web apps I’ve installed synchronized across all my computers authorized with the same Google Account.


HANDY SHORTCUTS Installed apps are lined up on Chrome’s new tab page.

I’ve opined almost two years ago that the web is the ultimate app store. While we’re still early in the game, Google’s cloud-centric approach is benefiting the company in ways more than one. First and foremost, the Chrome Web Store is a 100 percent cloud service that needs only the Chrome browser to run.

Second, forget about updates – you always have the most up-to-date version of your app. Third, web apps are platform-agnostic and work on Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows machines with Chrome. And even though storefront runs strictly inside the Chrome browser, user experience is way better compared to downloading and installing a hundred megabyte resource hog that is desktop iTunes.

Best of all, apps keep their settings and user-created data in the cloud (privacy advocates, rejoice). As a result, there’s no need to sync anything, back up data, or maintain your software in any other way associated with native apps on your desktop or mobile. I’m telling you, this is huge.