The line between Web apps and desktop applications grows ever blurrier. Chrome OS, for example, puts the browser front and center and makes it the core of an entire operating system. Also, in recent years simple smartphone apps have really come into their own, with millions of users and developers in two thriving ecosystems (iOS and Android). And now, it's the desktop's turn: Pokki is a Windows application that tries to make Web apps as easy to use as desktop apps and as discoverable and fun to install as smartphone apps.
A desktop app store is not a new concept: Mac OS X has had one for a while, and so has Ubuntu Linux. Windows 8 will be getting one as well, for Metro apps. But unlike the Windows 8 app store, Pokki works on existing versions of Windows.
Introduced in 2011, Pokki is still young, but it feels polished and fun to use. There are clear categories for Featured, Popular, and New apps. Applications are also categorized by type, such as productivity apps, games, health related apps, and so on. Each app has reviews and ratings, so you can see at a glance what other users thought about it.
The Chromium sandbox means Pokki applications are sealed off from Windows. For example, applications can't make any changes to the local filesystem, so they can't save files to your hard drive. Another effect of this separation is that Pokki applications don't appear anywhere in the Start menu. Pokki app icons show up on the Windows taskbar, next to the start menu, but if you don't use a very high-resolution monitor, the Pokki icon bar can become wide very quickly. On the plus side, icons can show little iOS-like notification badges, so you can instantly see when new content becomes available.
The Pokki applications I've tried felt responsive and lightweight. I was impressed by the Mixtape app, which popped up the compact window on my desktop that felt nothing like a webpage and allowed me to play music from Mixtape's servers with zero hassle, without even having to open an account. Pokki also offers an app for browsing the Facebook-owned Instagram photo service from your desktop, called Instagrille, which we reviewed separately (watch for that review; we'll post a link to it).
It is too early to say whether Pokki is going to be a smashing success that will forever change the landscape of Windows and Web applications, or just a nice idea that didn't quite work out. It has the makings of a success story, but for an app store to gain traction, it requires both users and developers in great quantities. Since Pokki is an independent player and is not backed up by a large industrial powerhouse such as Facebook, Google, or Microsoft, it still remains to be seen how much traction the system gets. I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed.