My name is Rob Cherny and I'm a professional Web Developer with 16 years of experience creating Web sites and Web-based applications. This site is where I write about my work, and random other things...

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Is the Chrome Store a Game Changer?

Several weeks ago, Google released the Google Chrome Web Store, and the industry at large collectively scratched it’s head trying to figure out what the implications of the store really were. People have been looking at what’s popular, what are actual “apps” versus bookmarks to web-based tools they can use in any browser and so on. Is this Google’s crushing blow, along with the Android Market and the coming Chrome OS, to Microsoft and Apple?

Is the Google Chrome Web Store a game changer?

Heck no. But what is special about the Chrome Store isn’t what runs in Chrome. It isn’t what it means for the browser or operating system landscape. What’s special about the Chrome Web Store is what’s special about many iPhone-specific Web sites and other experiments out there on the bleeding edge of the Web.

It’s a Web unencumbered by backwards compatibility concerns and without worry about those that simply don’t or can’t upgrade. Every day that we build traditional Web sites and Web apps we concern ourselves with backwards compatibility and an uncontrolled or unpredictable end user environment. Sure, it’s part of what makes the Web unique and the promise of openness – any content accessible anywhere, by any user on any system. And many of the apps on the Chrome Web store are anything but. Some have been compared to their iPad counterparts, like the New York Times app, and the comparison is indeed a fair one.

But the point is in the implications of Web development tomorrow, not in this controlled environment of a few bleeding edge browser users. Having a notice “this site best viewed in XYZ” (in days past it was Netscape or Internet Explorer) is anathema to any developer with a conscience. But sit back, look at what’s coming in the future, and enjoy the ride. I consider the whole thing a preview or a look ahead, and when you consider how close it is, it’s that much more fun.

This is a Web that a lot of people don’t understand even can exist, because they’ve never seen it, and they won’t upgrade, and we don’t make them, and so they never see it.

New York Times App

The New York Times App is actually a great case study. But it’s not just an app, it’s a fancy Web site. There’s a few other pretty stand out examples, certainly some that are more “applications” than content delivery, but this is one of the real good ones to prove my point. Content delivery is the bread and butter of the Web of course.

So what is the NYTimes app doing that’s so special? To get the full experience, “install” it into your copy of Chrome and run it full-screen. Use the help files to get around with the keyboard and try using the app without a network connection.

What you’ve got is pure “HTML5” goodness – in the broad sense of the term, of course. The technology under the hood is broad across the specs and a pure joy to pick apart:

  • HTML5
  • CSS3
  • Embedded Fonts
  • Web Workers
  • Offline Application Cache
  • Local Storage
  • Advanced keyboard navigation

What’s all this, then?

Basically, in terms of things you don’t get on your normal news content Web site…? Content is loaded asynchronously in the background, and stored in a locally built SQL Database for quick lookups and navigation. And I mean all the content. It’s not loaded when you click, but when you load the page. The remote calls are off-loaded to another thread in memory using JavaScript Web Workers.

The content blocks are laid out on screen in a grid defined based on the size of the user’s window, and rendered in locally downloaded and embedded font faces. You can select several different themes to display the content in, including inverted colors and several fundamental different types of layout. Finally, you can jump around story to story using the arrow keys, and also page between pages in articles that way.

The whole framework is saved locally using an offline application cache defined in a manifest file, and can be updated by updating that manifest file on the server. This, combined with that locally created SQL database is what allows the whole thing to operate offline.

The whole thing is remarkably closer to browsing a newspaper than any Web site I’ve ever seen. Add the prospect of a touch user interface such as the iPad, and do you see where this is going? Yes, much of this will run in Safari on the iPad, not only inside Chrome on your PC.

Not to steal a cliche, but this is Web development 2.0, my friends.

Dec 28, 07:30 AM in Web Development (filed under html5, Web-Standards)

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