Almost half of all Chrome users use extensions, but you rarely hear about Chrome extensions or apps for big companies. On the first episode of CloudUp by Agosto, we explore Chrome extensions vs. apps, why companies would want to create either and some of the coolest examples of Chrome extensions/apps in the enterprise today.

Meet the Speakers

Mitchell Steele

Google Chrome Sales Manager

Ray Pitmon

Solution Architect in Advanced Services

Transcript

Mitchell:

Did you know there are more than 180,000 Chrome extensions in the chrome web store?

Ray:

Yeah and that’s interesting.

And did you know that over half of all Chrome users have an extension installed?

Mitchell:

That’s crazy, that’s a really high number. I wonder why more enterprises aren’t developing and deploying their own app store extensions.

Ray:

I also wonder that.

Ray:

We should probably talk about that on this episode of CloudUp.

Mitchell:

Welcome to CloudUp, a web series where we explore the coolest things that are being built in the cloud today. Sponsored by Agosto. So for starters everyone’s probably seen or used a Chrome app or extension, but we want to start today by talking about some of the differences. And then maybe deep dive in on why you would use one over the other. So Ray, what are some of the differences between an extension and an app? I know we use both and we use them similarly, but they are different.

Ray:

Yeah, so an extension, a Chrome extension, you think of it more like a utility. So your features are unlimited and it allows quick access to some of Chrome’s functionalities. So there are specific API’s in the Chrome OS, you can access some of those API’s using an extension. An extension, you know you have probably seen before, it’s a little icon up in the top right, so it doesn’t have a full UI. So you can click on it and you can get a little bit of UI but it’s different than an app because a chrome app is basically a web app where you can have a full UI basically like a webpage.

Mitchell:

Yeah I know that an extension really changes the browsing experience in some way. And also an app mimics more of a native app, an app right on the actual computer itself even though it is a fancy webpage.

Ray:

Right, Right, Right. And the actual API’s are available different from extensions than to apps, so sometimes you need to use an extension to do things like install certificates and things like that, where apps we wouldn’t do that with. You might have an app actually call an extension to that, so sometimes when you use the two together.

Mitchell:

Alright, so now we know the differences between an app and extension, let’s take a few minutes, talk about how they are made, maybe why you use one or the other, and why you would choose to develop an app over an extension. And also like you mentioned how you use them together. But before we do that, let’s take a minute and acknowledge our sponsor, a fancy name on this cup here, and we’ll dive into that in a second.

Sarah:

More and more we’re seeing organizations wanna be strategic with their success, and part of that means their moving to the cloud. At Agosto we’re seeing a big uptick in clients using a Google Cloud platform for their online business operations. So whether you’re thinking you need a boost with AI, machine learning, or you just wanna build something new and fast, Agosto is an award winning partner who would be happy to help you with your needs. We’ve been Google’s cloud partner of the year multiple times. We got a few awards as well. And we would love for you to get to know more about us-

Sarah:

Okay I can’t take anymore. By visiting Agosto.com. You can get a free guide to your companies strategic plan for heading into the cloud, we’d love to see you there. Now back to the show.

Mitchell:

Welcome back to CloudUp. Now we’re gonna dive in a little bit and talk a little more technically about Chrome apps, extensions, why we use one or the other, how they’re developed, and really what they do. So Ray, what are they written in, how do they work?

Ray:

So, an extension is basically like a web app. So you write your extension using HTML, CSS, JavaScript. You can use a lot of JavaScript libraries that you normally would use to build a web app and just about any front-end web developer would be able to use their favorite tools to build an application that is a Chrome app, or an extension for that matter.

Mitchell:

So if I’m a developer, how do I choose whether I write and app or an extension?

Ray:

So, if what you’re building has a UI to it, typically you would use an app. So think of a chrome app as a web app. And actually what Google has done is they have changed things a bit in that now you can only publish Chrome apps for Chrome OS. Everybody knows you can run Chrome on Linux, and Windows, and Mac, whatever right and obviously on Chrome devices running Chrome OS but as far as apps go, you can only build an app for Chrome OS. So Google does have a path where they describe how you would build a web app to replace your Chrome app in order to kind of have the same functionality for all the users on the other platforms.

Mitchell:

Okay, so if you have a web app there’s a way to basically rewrite that easily to be a Chrome app and then it would be more of a native experience on a Chrome device.

Ray:

Right, you would build a Chrome app probably if you needed to have access to some of the API’s on the Chrome device, so the Chrome API’s give you access to the hardware so you can access serial ports, Bluetooth. Things like that , that you wouldn’t be able to access from a browser. So you wouldn’t have access to those anyway if your not using a Chrome OS device, so you would probably just create a web app that’s hosted by a web server instead of packaged together into a new app that’s installed on a Chrome device.

Mitchell:

Can an extension have access to those things as well?

Ray:

Yes, an extension can have access to those things as well, there are different API’s that are available to extensions and apps, so in some cases you might have to use an extension along with an app, we’ve seen that where we’ve had to have an extension that uses API’s to access information on the device, and maybe launches a web app or a chrome app.

Mitchell:

And that’s a good example of how you use them both together. Can you talk a little bit more about you mentioned you use the extension to launch the web app. Why wouldn’t the web extension just do all of it

Ray:

Because you don’t get a full UI in an extension, right? if you’ve used a Chrome extension usually you can click on the little icon on the upper right corner. That extension will show a small UI there, but you don’t have access to a full web app. Whereas with a Chrome app, you can do a whole progressive web app where you know there’s a full UI.

Mitchell:

What do you think are the differences between other than just it feeling like native app, what do you think the differences are between a webpage, so a web app or a chrome app?

Ray:

In most cases there really isn’t a difference. I think a key part to that is that you can access API’s in the Chrome OS with a Chrome app. So kind of the power of using a chrome device with an app is that you can access things that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do so if you were just browsing through a web page.

Mitchell:

Cool. Let’s talk a little bit about some Chrome app extensions that are out there. So obviously as we said earlier there’s a Chrome app store, Chrome web store. It has over 180,000 apps and that’s growing everyday. More than 50 percent of users use some kind of Chrome extension whether it’s in an enterprise setting or personal life. Some of them are really simple, some are the things like, Google has an extension, it’s called “Office editing for Docs, Slides, and Sheets.” So it’s like simply just a way to open up a doc or an excel file in a browser and edit it, or recreate it. It also works as an extension for Google Drive.

Mitchell:

And then there is some other Chrome apps that are used out there heavily. One of them that we were using here is called “Grab and go.” It’s an app that runs on a loan of Chrome devices that just helps make sure that if I take a loan or Chrome device, it knows who I am. It uses some of those API’s to save some of that information in a cloud portal, and then manage that loan. So there doesn’t need to be any IT interaction. Ray what are some, we’ve done some custom development for some apps, what are some things that you’ve developed apps to do in the past?

Ray:

So, some of the apps that Agosto has built are, one example is around certificate management. So one thing about these Chrome devices that’s nice is that they’re really secure devices. Google has spent a lot of time on the security of these things, and so enterprise users or enterprises wanna have a way to enroll these devices into their

Mitchell:

into their microsoft ca

Ray:

Yeah, that would be one thing yeah. So we’ve built an app that allows for a white glove implementation. So imagine that you’re an enterprise and you’re ordering a bunch of these Chromebooks for your employees. We built an app that allows users to log into their Chromebook and it automatically downloads the certificate that allows those Chromebooks to connect to the corporate wifi, and it’s kind of a seamless process so-

Mitchell:

Is that a user cert, or is that a device cert?

Ray:

In a case of the, actually it depends on the implementation, so in most cases it ends up being a user cert, it’s installed on the device though, and it uses the TPM which is a crypto chip built onto the device to sign certificates.

Mitchell:

Okay. So it’s injecting that cert right into the TPM chip.

Ray:

Yup, so that’s an example of if you use some of the Chrome API’s to do that obviously, and you can only do that with an application or an extension.

Mitchell:

Okay. So something that can’t be done, can be done in both apps and extensions? Or does it have to be one or the other?

Ray:

It actually uses a combination of both in that case.

Mitchell:

Okay.

Ray:

So in one of the enrollment apps we’ve built, there’s a UI to it that might ask a user, if it’s like a retail situation and a user will get a new device, they’ll go to lo g in it might ask them to store a number, it might ask them their name or some other information. Since there’s UI there, we built an app for that and then when they click “go,” it would launch an extension. The extension would do the certificate stuff.

Mitchell:

So that’s another good example how extensions and apps work together. So, if we developed this extension, how do we get it to devices? So if I’m a developer at my company and I put together and built this extension to do certs, how do I get to all these devices, get it out in the field?

Ray:

There’s a Chrome web store, so if you’ve ever download a certificate, or if you’ve ever downloaded an app or an extension, you’ve gone to the Chrome web store. So one thing Google has integrated is the Chrome web store into this kind of enterprise admin console that they have. So as an admin you can configure all your Chromebooks or some part of them, or users specifically. When they log into the Chromebook it’ll automatically download whatever extensions and apps you’ve defined to allow them to download.

Mitchell:

Okay. So if I did all the extensions for my organization, does everyone that has access to the Chromebook, consumers have access to that app?

Ray:

Not usually. You can make it that way, but you have your own private web store.

Mitchell:

So there’s a web store specific to my organization.

Mitchell:

How about apps and extensions that I don’t want my users to have access to, what happens then?

Ray:

Oh you can blacklist apps. You can white list apps. So you have full control over what can be installed on a Chrome device.

Mitchell:

So, essentially I can make my own web store for my organization, maybe put some things out there that the user can go choose themselves to go download, like maybe have a small store just for my company and they can choose and then I can force installs onto directly

Ray:

Yup. You can add apps obviously that are from any of the apps from the web store. So you may have a combination of apps that already exist, and then if you’ve created your own apps of course, you can add those the private web store as well.

Mitchell:

Okay, that’s cool. You know I know we’ve also had this other node on Chrome called “kiosk node.” Let’s talk about that a little bit, obviously Kiosk mode locks down any Chrome book or chrome device, and kind of chrome device it could be a Chrome Box or Chrome Base Chrome Book, Chrome Bit to one application or extension. And it’s really use is for one purpose. Let’s talk about how that works with apps and extensions really quick.

Ray:

Sure. Sure. So kiosk mode is really cool because what you do is, again in the admin console that Google provides, you can configure a device by it’s device by it’s device ID to start up in kiosk mode, which means that nobody has access to log into it, it automatically starts an app that you choose. So configure this device to launch this app when it boots up. And that app in a lot of cases may not have a UI, or it might have a UI associated with it. So if it’s like a touchscreen device, people will create apps that are interactive but they don’t have to worry about people trying to go to a webpage or do other stuff because it’s locked. It’s locked to that app.

Mitchell:

Got it.

Ray:

There are several apps out there that do that, we had actually built an app called “Skykit,” that’s a digital display product that, same thing basically when you are in Skykit you get a Chrome device configured to launch the Skykit app and it really can’t do anything else, so

Mitchell:

And I know two other use cases that I’ve got , we have a couple other customers using, one of them using a kiosk app as a deli ordering system at a grocery store so I walk in and there’s a chrome tablet there that’s already launched to an app that they developed. I can order my deli order and it obviously sends it off. Once I’m done it’s ready for the next person. Another one I see a lot is time clocks. People lock down just the web page to a time clock when an hourly employee was to come in punching my I.D or scanning or whatever it might be, and it it’s still just locked to that one app.

Ray:

So Kiosk mode, from what I understand Google has actually created a rapport application that makes it easy for you to wrap a web app in kiosk mode. How does that work?

Mitchell:

Yeah so, there actually is a, we always call it a kiosk wrap around, I know it has a proper name but essentially it’s a small program extension or an app that allows you to essentially plug in a URL for a web app, and as long as everything you need to do is within that one URL and there’s no redirects or anything, it’ll create a web app for you relatively simply. That way you can like Ray talked about earlier you can plug it into your private chrome webstore, and push it out to devices. This is a great way to do, we talked about the time clock application, if that’s a web based app that you’re using now, it’s a great way to set it up and It becomes full screen, you don’t see any bookmarks or anything like that. And so it’s a really simple way to just convert a web page into an app that you can force install in Kiosk mode.

Ray:

That’s pretty cool.

Mitchell:

That’s all the time we have for today, thanks so much for watching this episode of CloudUp. If you’ve got more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. We would love to hear from you so tell us what some of your favorite app and extensions are. If you’ve built one for your organization, we’d love to hear about it, we’d love to hear some of the challenges, or maybe things that you figured out on the way.

Ray:

And if you’re a developer and you’re interested in building an extension or an app or just trying to get started and you have any questions, let us know.

Mitchell:

Yeah, you could actually win a CloudUp swag bag. So thanks so much for watching, we’ll see you next time.

Sarah:

CloudUp is brought to you by Agosto, a leading Google Cloud platform partner. Like this episode and subscribe to our channel on YouTube to learn more. We would love to help you out, visit Agosto.com to learn more.