The Chrome Web Store is a new browser-based software application distribution platform from Google. Taking a cue from the skyrocketing popularity of apps on smartphones and tablet computers, both Google and Apple (with their Mac App Store) have recently sought to bring the ease of installation and highly simplified user-interfaces that apps are known for to the personal computer, while also incorporating the power and flexibility of cloud computing. There is an extraordinary wealth of extremely useful free software to be found on both sites, and typically, apps that are not free are priced fairly (most of the apps listed below are free, but some charge a small fee to download and others to use full features). These online app stores represent the beginning of the end of the era of installation CD’s for new software. Cloud based computing means that the resources required to make the software tick are primarily hosted on the web, as opposed to on your computer (we’ll talk more about cloud computing and implications for education support, along with a profile of the Mac App Store in future posts). Many of these applications also make use of HTML5, a new iteration of web programming code that will bring even greater flexibility and power to the internet.
In the case of the Chrome Web Store, the main requirement needed to get started is that you use Google’s Chrome web browser to access the store. While many users would find a shift from their current browser of choice (i.e., Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari) to be a traumatic event, I believe that you will find Chrome to be fast, sleek and easy to adapt to, in addition to completely free. If you just can’t stomach the transition, many of these apps are also available as traditional downloads via their respective websites.
So, about those apps. Here is just a handful that our readers may find of interest:
- Planetarium –an interactive star map for kids (or adults!) interested in astronomy
- Google Books – millions of free e-books in a plethora of subjects
- 3DTin – A realistic 3D model-maker
- MathBoard – a math learning tool appropriate for elementary and kindergarten students
- MeeGenuis! Children’s Books – personalized, “enhanced” web books for younger students
- LucidChart – a collaborative diagramming tool, not unlike Inspiration or MindManager
- Picnik Photo Editor – web-based photo manipulation a la Photoshop
- 20 Things I Learned about Browsers & the Web – a great introduction to how the internet works
- Springpad – note-taking tool that can incorporate assignments, photos, to-do lists, etc.
- Bomomo – an innovative illustration and drawing tool
- A variety of flashcard-based apps which can aid memory, vocabulary, math skills and more
There are literally thousands of apps available on the different platforms, with new ones being developed every day. While this list is by no means exhaustive, we hope it will send you on an exploration of the rapidly-changing world of free web-based software. If you discover a great app that would be of interest to the education-minded, please let us know in the comments.