Dec 4, 2017

Apps vs. Add-ons vs. Extensions

I have received this question many times even from more experienced Google Apps users: "What is the difference between an App, and Add-on, and an Extension?"  Although it may seem as they are one in the same or cross paths, they are actually quite distinct in their nature and function.  I hope you find comfort in the following explanation of each and can finally put your confusion to rest.

A Chrome App is the least glorious of the three as it can be best described as a simple hyperlink to a Google or third-party web-based service.  You may ask yourself why, then, do they bother to curate Apps in the Chrome Web Store.  Herein lies the benefit of Chrome Apps.  These apps, albeit, hyperlinks to a web-based service, provide access to the service via your Google Apps account.  Thus, preventing you from providing an additional set of credentials to access the service.  These "connected" apps can also provide direct connectivity to storage of files in Drive.  An image editor such as Pixlr is a great example.  The service is wholly contained on its own website, but by adding the Chrome App to your account, you are able to import from, edit, and export your image files directly to Google Drive.  Once added from the Chrome Web Store, these apps are available from the app launcher in your Bookmark Bar on a PC/Mac or from app launcher on a Chromebook.

An Add-on is a third-party script that enhances your use of the core Google services such as Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms.  These highly advanced script programs serve to upgrade the core service, such as providing a means to manage an email merge function from Sheets or creating Avery Labels for printing.  Add-ons are NOT available from the Chrome Web Store, but rather only from the menu bar of the service in which they can be utilized.  You can preview all Add-ons available for a particular service by clicking on Add-ons>Get add-ons... and then perusing the available list.  You can also manage your Add-ons available for that service by clicking Add-ons>Manage add-ons... but it will only show you the Add-ons available for that particular service.  If you are looking for a way to expand your use of Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms and need to complete more complicated tasks with such services, Add-ons are the way to go.  My favorite Add-on is undoubtedly Autocrat.  I use this Add-on to automate the dissemination of information collected via a Google Form.  Once data is collected from a Form, it is housed in a Sheet.  Autocrat lives within the Sheet and merges the collected data with a Doc template and then can even email that merged Doc to one or more individuals.  Your creativity is the only limit when it comes to utilizing Add-ons to enhance your productivity with the Google Suite of services.

Troubleshooting note: if an Add-on is not performing the way it is intended, you may want to remove it from the Doc, Sheet, Slide or Form and then re-add it.  Upon adding the Add-on again, you will be sure to get the latest updates if any were made.  You can also email support for the Add-on if it is still giving you trouble from the Manage Add-ons screen.

A Chrome Extension is an application that serves to extend your Chrome Browser experience.
Thus, these extensions can only be used from within the Chrome Browser software on a PC/Mac or from a Chromebook.  There are literally hundreds of these little apps that will enhance your browsing experience.  They can all be found right in the Chrome Web Store which, as you will note, can be filtered to only show relevant extensions or apps as we previously mentioned.  Most of the extensions that you choose to add to your Chrome browser software will reside to the right of the Omnibox (search bar).  Active extensions will display in full color, while inactive extensions may be greyed-out or disappear altogether.  Don't be worried if you don't see an extension at all in this location as some remain hidden all the time even though they are active.  You can view and manage all of your extensions by clicking on the menu (three vertical dots) to the right of the Omnibox then hovering over More Tools and then clicking on Extensions.  From that screen, you are able to temporarily disable an extension, re-enable an extension and even delete an extension. 

Troubleshooting note: if your browsing experience is seemingly glitchy, disable extensions that you think may be the culprit.  You can always re-enable them later.

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