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Google 'open' to Chrome Web Store without the Chrome bit

Fashions browser agnostic 'installable' web apps

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Update: This story has been updated with comments from Mozilla's Jay Sullivan.

Google says it's "open" to building a version of its brand new Chrome Web Store that plays nicely with other browsers, and it has already fashioned tools that will allow Chrome Web Store shoppers to "install" apps on other browsers.

In May, when Google first unveiled its Chrome Web Store – a marketplace for web apps that's specific to Google's Chrome browser and its still-gestating Chrome OS – Mozilla told the world that it preferred a web app store that's browser agnostic – or rather, a whole ecosystem of independent web app stores that are browser agnostic. And this October, the open source outfit released a prototype for such a store.

Today, at the annual Add-on-Con browser confab in Mountain View, California, we asked Google engineer Eric Kay if Google intended to follow Mozilla's lead by embracing a store that wasn't tied to its own browser, and he responded by indicating that Google will soon announce what it calls "CRX-less" web apps – web apps that can be installed from the Chrome Web Store onto third-party browsers. CRX is the file extension associated with Chrome.

"Basically, this gets rid of the Chrome-specific parts of the installable web-app metaphor," he said. In addition to offering extensions and browser "themes," the Chrome Web Store punts what Google calls "installable web apps". Google separates these into two categories: hosted apps and packaged apps. Hosted apps are just websites with some extra metadata for, say, adding an app-launch icon to your browser. With these, you're mimicking installation. You're adding metadata that lets you easily return to the app again and again. Packaged apps are web apps that you can actually download, and these can use the Chrome Extension APIs.

CRX-less web apps are hosted apps that can mimic installation on third-party browsers.

Kay said that shortly after it announced the Chrome Web Store in May, Google proposed its CRX-less setup to the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), and he said that Mozilla's prototype store was "pretty close" to Google's proposal.

"We talked on and off about how to move forward and make sure we're all on the same page on this front. But from day-one we were reaching out to standards bodies and other browser vendors, and we hope that we can come to an agreement on standards," Kay said.

Later in the day, Mozilla vice president of products Jay Sullivan told us that he was not aware of any discussions between Google and Mozilla on the matter. And he was not aware of Google's work on CRX-less web apps.

He did add, however, that some things "will be hard to standardized on," including extensions and themes. "There are always going to be hooks that are browser-specific," he said.

He even acknowledged that there are some fundamental differences in the way various browser makers see such a store operating. "Things like packaged apps are – in the short to mid-term – going to remain Chrome-specific," he said. "But we're definitely open to working with other browser vendors." ®

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