Power User Tip: Chrome Application Shortcuts

This week, we take a break from WordPress and nonprofit websites to focus on one my favorite little “power user” tips: Google Chrome’s Application Shortcuts. I’ve used them for a while, and I love them. They’ve changed how I work [and procrastinate] for the better.

What Are They?

Application shortcuts are a way to make a website act more like a desktop program. This has two big effects:

  1. Even though it’s a website, an application shortcut removes all the browser’s “chrome” ((That’s a generic term not to be confused with Google Chrome.)) which includes the application menus, the address bar, and back/forward buttons.
  2. Each new application shortcut gets its own desktop, start menu, or task bar shortcut with icon.

Here’s an application window for WorkFlowy, which I’ve blogged about before. Notice how the webpage fills the entire window.

WorkFlowy in a Application Window

Why Would I Want to Do This?

Reasons may vary depending on your computer habits, but here’s why I find these little shortcuts compelling.

Make Web Apps More Appy™. ((This is a joke. I am not implying that I own trademarks on Appy, Appyness, Apption, capp, or even Plapptypus and Supercappifrappilappsticexpiappidappcious). If you actually own these trademarks, I only hope you were joking too just with a little extra paperwork.)) Make Me More Happy.

More and more, I’m using tools built as websites but that have more in common with a computer application (an “app”) than a normal informational website. This trend will only continue over the next few years.

For whatever reason, I find that I’m rather clumsy about using browser tabs for different apps. Something about their Appyness™ just makes me think they’re not in a browser. Application windows solve this issue. Rather than juggling a bunch of tabs, I get separate windows for websites that I don’t want in tabs:

Windows Task Bar with Application Shortcuts
WorkFlowy, HootSuite, Trello, and NYTimes.com all get their own “applications” in my taskbar even though they’re technically just websites.

Here’s a list of all the web apps I use with application shortcuts:

  • Gmail (email)
  • Google Voice (voicemail and business phone management)
  • HootSuite (social media management)
  • Google Analytics (website statistics)
  • WorkFlowy (personal lists)
  • Trello (project management)
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Docs (collaborative document editing and sharing)

Silo Procrastination

The above list leaves off four other shortcuts I use:

  • Google Reader
  • New York Times
  • Google+
  • Facebook

Those are my go-to procrastination sources. By putting them in separate windows, I don’t leave them in a browser tab alongside work-related websites.

On the flip side, when I’ve got WorkFlowy up in front of me in an application window, the address bar is hidden so it can’t call out to me, “You know you want to go to Google Reader.”

Snappy & Cutting Edge Features

I love Firefox—you can see it’s open along with my application windows above—and I use it for all my website development. However, Firefox can get pretty bulky with all my browser plugins. Using Google Chrome, known for its speed and with fewer extensions, these other windows feel faster to me.

In addition, Google Chrome is arguably the most cutting-edge browser in terms of certain emerging features in HTML and CSS. A lot of these apps take advantage of those features, so it’s likely that Chrome gets a slightly better experience than Firefox. In the same vein, I use a lot of Google websites in application windows. Google, unsurprisingly, takes advantage of every cool feature that they build into their own browser, Chrome.

Quick Access

Just like bookmarks, application shortcuts make it really fast to get to the websites I use every day.

So How Do I Do This?

It’s really easy!

  1. First, make sure you have Google Chrome installed on your computer.
  2. Open Chrome and go to the website you want to turn into an app.
  3. Click the Chrome menu button. (This was a wrench until last week. Now it’s three horizontal lines in the upper right corner of the browser.)
  4. Go to “Tools” > “Create application shortcuts…”
  5. Select where you’d like to create the shortcut. I usually put them on my desktop and then drag them wherever I plan on using them.
  6. Click “Create.” You’re done! Repeat these steps for each site you want a shortcut for.

For the visually-inclined, here are screenshot instructions:

Step 3, above.
Step 4, above.
Steps 5 and 6, above

Lights. Camera. Apption™!

And so to capp™ this off, here’s a gallery of app windows to give you a sense of why I think these are so much cleaner and fun to work with than their website counterparts.

Talk Back

What websites do you—or will you—use with application shortcuts? While we’re at it, what other easy power user tips do you think I should use? Share them in the comments and maybe they’ll popup in a future blog post.

Thanks to @michaeldfoley who made me aware that this feature isn’t available in Chrome for Mac. Luckily, he pointed me to this post from Lifehacker about setting these up in Mac. It provides both an alternative program and a script to modify Chrome. Thanks, Michael!

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