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8 superpowers hidden inside your browser

Brad Chacos | Nov. 15, 2013
Once a mere renderer of static HTML, today's browsers come chock-full of capabilities that can transform webpages into something downright desktopian.

Drag and drop
Dragging and dropping files—what's more desktop than that? Compiling source code, maybe. But while your browser may not be able to roll its own binaries just yet, it can let you drag local files into online webpages, thanks to some behind-the-scenes HTML5 magic. Watch the lines between online and offline blur as you drag and drop files into Google Drive, Imgur, your Facebook status, or email messages that you compose in Gmail or Outlook.com.

Notifications
For websites that want to get really fancy, Chrome and Firefox support the ability to push desktop notifications to users, popping up little windows in the lower-left corner of the screen. Users have to grant explicit permission for the feature, and few websites take advantage of it—but for the websites that do, it's a handy way to stay on top of things when you have a gajillion tabs open.

I've allowed Gmail and the HipChat website to push notifications to my desktop, and doing so has made my workdays easier. Rather than opening their respective tabs whenever new messages arrive, I just glance at the notification and continue on my merry way.

Edit docs, images, and more
Need a decently robust photo editor? Try the amazing Pixlr. Tune-twiddlers can perform basic tweaks with a website like Soundation or TwistedWave. When the boss comes a-calling, you can get docs, spreadsheets, and more done in Google Drive or Microsoft's Office Web apps, both of which also offer real-time collaboration. And did I mention Prezi's awesome presentation-making capabilities?

Web apps used to be ho-hum also-rans that played second fiddle to tried-and-true desktop software. No more! The growing power of the Web makes all but the most demanding tasks doable in-browser.

Work offline
"Pfah," I hear you pfahing, "Get back to me when these supposedly wonderful Web apps work without an Internet connection." Consider this your wake-up call.

Google now enables offline functionality for all sorts of apps in its Chrome browser. The entire Docs suite lets you view files offline—after some prep work—and you can even edit documents, spreadsheets, and drawings sans connectivity. Gmail can work offline, too.

Chrome's offline functionality doesn't end with Google-sanctioned tools, though. Any developer can create an offline-capable Chrome App, complete with the ability to do desktop-ish things like storing data locally and interacting with your PC's hardware. (Bluetooth compatibility? Check.) Google even released a Start Menuesque App Launcher to let you launch Chrome Apps right from your taskbar.

Want to try the best the offline Web has to offer? Take a look at PCWorld's list of the best no-Net-needed Chrome Apps available today.

 

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