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Tech News: Google's Move to Take Over the Desktop, and the New "Netflix of E-Books"

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Plus, the number of high schoolers who have smoked e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to the CDC.

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Chrome Apps Have Spread to the Desktop

Today is the fifth birthday of Chrome, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Web browsing and application process that has caught on quickly and become the most-used Web browser in the world, with a full 39% of the browser market share. To celebrate the half-decade mark, Google is expanding the platform beyond the Web browser and Chromebooks with the new "For your desktop" section on the Chrome Web Store. The company is particularly targeting the Chrome desktop apps of Windows users, as Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) operating system is still handily the most used.

Chrome's offering of desktop apps are really quite versatile and can do a lot of what native Windows apps already do: They work offline, they can access the webcam and microphones of the computer, and they support notification from email, online content, and social media. The apps can be launched straight from the desktop, and allow users to save data and content on the computer's hard drive, as well as on the cloud through Google Drive and other similar Web services.

The move illustrates how important Chrome is to Google's continued growth: the Web and now desktop platform is the company's strongest play for a long-term computing strategy. Next up, the apps from the Chrome Store's "For your desktop" section will be available for Mac (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Linux.

Oyster, the Brand New Netflix of E-Books

Many startups want to become the Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) of e-books but struggle to acquire an assortment of titles that customers would pay a flat monthly rate to read. The problem is that major publishers have been reluctant to sign their titles to these startups because of how complicated it would be to pay their authors for reads on a rental-based system. Most e-book rental services, like Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle Owners' Lending Library, have a collection that consists mostly of self-published titles that few people have ever heard of.

With backing from Peter Theil's Founders Fund, the New York-based startup Oyster may have cracked the code and figured out how to be for books what Netflix is for television and film. Today, Oyster, which was founded by former Google, Microsoft, and Hunch employees, launched its iPhone app with over 100,000 copyrighted titles, with a monthly subscription fee of $9.95. As the app is in its infancy, it is invite-only, but early buzz is positive for the content library and for the design. Participating publishers include HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Algonquin, and more, though HarperCollins is the only major publishing player on the list (Oyster is apparently in talks with the rest of the publishing "Big 5").

The app's interface is akin to that of Netflix, allowing the user to browse categories such as "Popular Science," "Award-Winning Fiction," and "Book to Blockbusters." Moreover, the app allows the reader to customize the type size and screen brightness, and offers five "themes" (a.k.a. fonts) to choose from.

For now, the app is available only for iPhone, but the Oyster team has plans to bring it to the iPad this fall. As for Android users, they may not be able to partake in the Netflix of e-books for now: Oyster has no "concrete plans" to launch its app on anything other than iOS -- at least, not for the moment.

E-Cigarette Use Doubles in Teens, According to the CDC

According to newly released data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of high schoolers that had tried electronic cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, from 4.7% to 10%. Of course, the CDC is not happy about this development. As Thomas Friedman, the director of the CDC, said in a statement: "Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to... a lifelong addiction to nicotine."

The CDC's worry is that e-cigarettes are a gateway to the use of real cigarettes: The same survey found that 76% of teenagers that had smoked the electronic version had almost smoked the paper and smoke version. Moreover, many experts and legislators argue that flavored e-cigs are all the more alluring to high schoolers.

The jury is still out on the health effects of e-cigarettes. One study found that they impair respiratory function while others claim there are no ill health effects. In fact, one research study suggests that e-cigarettes are a helpful resource for smokers looking to quit or lessen their habit.

E-cigarettes were introduced to the market just 10 years ago and the industry is expecting to surpass $1 billion in revenue this year. Naturally, many of the big tobacco players, like Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI), Lorillard (NYSE:LO), and Altria (NYSE:MO), have e-cigarette holdings and are betting on that market to continue its rapid rise in revenue. The FDA is currently mulling over restrictions on how the new electronic nicotine products are advertised and sold.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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