Feel like shopping? Both the Mac App Store (Apple menu > App Store) and the iTunes Store (accessed through Apple's iTunes) may appear to be applications, but they are actually websites. That means you don't have to fumble through menus or wait for iTunes to launch in order to access the stores. It also means that you can use powerful Web-based tools--like Google search--to find apps, music, movies, and more. Here are six tips for using a Web browser to access the stores more quickly and efficiently.

1. Search from the Web

When you want to search the Mac App Store and iTunes Store apps, the limitations can be frustrating. For example, iTunes doesn't let you search for record labels. If you're looking for a song that's been covered by 100 bands that makes it hard to find the version you want. Try Google to search instead.

Harness the power of Google: Say you want to find all the albums by a certain artist that are available in the U.S. iTunes Store. In your Web browser, type in a Google search such as this: Grateful Dead site:itunes.apple.com/us/

This search string has four parts. The first, Grateful Dead, is what I'm searching for. In the second part, site: specifies that the search is limited to the domain following the colon. The third, itunes.apple.com is the actual domain where the search will take place. (Both the App Store and the iTunes Store use the same URL.) Finally, the /us/ part at the very end limits the search to the United States stores. If you want to search in France, use /fr/; in the United Kingdom, use /gb/; and so on. (If you don't know the two-letter code for your country, see this Wikipedia article. Naturally, not all countries have the iTunes Store or the Mac App Store.)

Your search results will contain a wide range of content, and you can scroll through Google's pages looking for what you want.

Limit your searches further: If you want to be more precise, include words like podcast or iPhone in your search (in the first part of the search string). If you want to find an multiplayer word game, for example, you might search for: multiplayer word game site:itunes.apple.com/us/

If you want to find OS X-comptible text editors that handle Markdown, search for: text editor os x Markdown site:itunes.apple.com/us/

You can also search for specific songs, or classical works, by adding artist names, labels and more. For example, search for fischer-dieskau winterreise EMI site:itunes.apple.com/us/ to find Dietrich-Fischer Dieskau's recording of Winterreise on the EMI label.

2. Share URLs

Since the Mac App Store and iTunes Store are really just made up of webpages, it's easy to share links to apps, songs, movies, albums, and more with friends. If you perform a Google search as described above, simply copy the link to the search result you want to share.

You can copy links from within the different store apps, as well. Control-click (right-click) any icon in the stores and choose Copy Link. Save the links for future reference, or send them via email or Apple's Messages app. When a recipient clicks the link, the appropriate store will open.

3. Bookmark products for later

You can also save these links as bookmarks in your Web browser to make it easy to return to a page. Just press Command-D in most browsers, or select your browser's Add Bookmark menu item. Bookmarking products can be very helpful when you're browsing. The closest equivalent to bookmarking in the iTunes Store is a Wish List. You must be in the app to use this; then click on the arrow icon next to the item's price and choose Add to Wish List.

4. Drag to see product info

To see a product's information, drag its icon from either of the stores to your Web browser's Dock icon or your browser's open window. For some reason, this doesn't work in the Mac App Store app on an individual app's page; it works on pages listing multiple apps, such as the Featured page, or on pages with search results.

When you drag an icon, you're really dragging a link, which then opens the corresponding webpage. You might find this page more informative than the pages in the iTunes Store or the Mac App Store. All the content is presented on a single page rather than on multiple tabs.

5. Quickly email links to content

Want to send a link to a friend? In Safari, you can drag a product icon from a store onto Mail's Dock icon to create a new email containing the product's link. In Chrome, you'll get a new message with the product icon's image in the message body instead; just drag the URL from the browser's address bar.

6. Prevent iTunes links from opening in apps

When you click links for Mac App Store or iTunes Store content, the appropriate app will open and display the item. But suppose you don't want to open the iTunes Store when you click a link a friend sent you? You might already be browsing in the iTunes Store, for instance, and might not want to lose your place.

If you use Safari, you can install Florian Pichler's free NoMoreiTunes Safari Extension. This prevents Safari from redirecting links to the Mac App Store or the iTunes Store. There is, however, a button at the top of every webpage that you can click to go to one of those apps if you want. With this extension installed, you can browse through the stores (after using a Google search, as explained in the first tip, for example) in Safari. You can click other items, artists' names, and more, and each new link will open in Safari.

If you use Chrome or Firefox, the links aren't automatically redirected. You can click the View in iTunes Store or View in Mac App Store button to go to those stores.