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How the Google Chrome Browser Works

Chrome Browser Extensions and Apps
This is the New Tab Page. The user is accessing the options menu for one of the installed Google Chrome apps.
This is the New Tab Page. The user is accessing the options menu for one of the installed Google Chrome apps.
Stephanie Crawford for

An extension is an extra feature designed to plug in to your Web browser and function as if it was a native part of the browser software. The top three browsers vary in how they use terminology around extensions:

  • Firefox calls them extensions or plug-ins based on their role within the browser.
  • Internet Explorer calls them add-ons, which they separate into five add-on types: toolbars, extensions, search providers, accelerators and tracking protection.
  • Chrome just calls them extensions, with themes and apps categorized separately.

In Chrome, as in other browsers, extensions work alongside the browser's built-in features to enhance your Web experience. Since each extension has a specific purpose, you may be performing a specific task in the browser before you see the extension in action. For example, if you're using the Shopping Assistant extension, the price comparison bar, which searches other Web sites for the same product, won't appear at the bottom of the browser window unless you're shopping for a product at a competitor's site.

While extensions are often comparable across browsers, Chrome has a unique option that other browsers have yet to replicate: apps. Earlier, we talked about one of Google's primary goals for Chrome: Optimize the browser for running Web applications. With Chrome apps, Google takes that goal a step further. Today, Chrome runs its own virtual computing environment for Web apps, and Chrome apps take advantage of that processing power. Chrome apps install and run in Chrome as if you were installing the software on your computer or smartphone.

To access Chrome apps, just open a new browser tab. On each New Tab page, Chrome displays shortcuts to all the apps you have installed. Click the icon for one of these apps to get started. If you need to pause from using the app to do something else, you have the option of leaving the tab open where you can click back to it at any time. If you need to adjust an app's settings or remove it altogether, move your mouse over the app to highlight it and click the wrench icon that appears in the upper right of that highlight block.

So where do Chrome apps and extensions come from? Extend your reading to the next page to find out.