Google Chrome is currently the most popular browser on desktop PCs. It has over 54% of desktop users usually in the Windows world choosing it over the other browsers. Here in the Linux world, Google Chrome is not the most popular as most distros prefer to ship other web browsers. The most popular of these is Firefox whilst others prefer Chromium. Chromium for all intents and purposes is very identical to Google Chrome. They share everything from looks to extensions, engine, and features. So why don’t they (Linux distros) just ship with Google Chrome? What are the differences between Google Chrome and Chromium?
Google Chrome Vs. Chromium
Chrome is built on Chromium
In 2008 Google introduced the Chromium Project. The Chromium Project is an open-source project that is behind both of Google’s Chrome browser and Google Chrome OS. Chromium browser is the immediate product of the project. Google then takes this pure browser and adds onto it its services and other products which are not available under open source licenses. As a result, most Linux distros don’t ship Google Chrome in the spirit of “open source(ness)” but another which conforms completely to the GPL (GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE), such as Chromium or Firefox.
Other than the icon, the interface of Google Chrome and Chromium are the same. On a typical desktop, you will not be able to differentiate between the two. The tabs, the controls, the address bar and the main window will be the exact same thing.
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Can you guess which browser this is?
Since both of these browsers are based on the same source code, the Blink rendering engine (previously used WebKit until version 27) used by them is the same.
Support for the same Extensions, Themes, and Web Apps
The two browsers support the same extensions, themes, and web apps, that is extensions, themes and web apps written or optimized for one will work on the other. The only issue is that Google only allows extensions from its web store although this can be bypassed by enabling developer mode.
Some Google-based features
There are also a few Google based features that are available by default on Chromium. The sync feature available in Google Chrome is also available for Chromium which means if you live in the Google ecosystem, you can as easily log in with a Google account and sync your data with Chromium much like on Google Chrome. Other features such as “Use a web search to help resolve navigation errors” and “enable phishing and malware protection” are enabled by default.
What are the differences between Google Chrome and Chromium?
Non-open source components
As I mentioned earlier, some parts of Google Chrome aren’t available under open-source licenses. Some of these include the PDF reader, Flash and some audio and video codecs (MP3, AAC, H.264). The way of Google is to use the best product available even if is a proprietary one. A typical example as pointed out by a Google developer on Reddit is the rendering of PDFs, where Google uses a much faster proprietary product other than an open-sourced one. Due to this, some streaming sites are unavailable for Chromium but work with Google Chrome.
Flash and Sandboxing
I already mentioned flash but let me rehash it. The outdated flash plug-in available for Chromium is really not safe and you should not be using it. Google Chrome ships with a sandboxed version which is kept up-to-date by Google. Also, on some Linux distros, sandboxing may be off by default (everyone compiles their own) on Chromium. So make sure turn it on by going to about:sandbox.
Automatic upgrades are not part of Chromium builds because they do not make sense. Chromium builds are of a compile and run for yourself, meaning that you choose what you want and as such adding auto-updates will update to what? The solution to this is what most Linux distros do by using their own store to manage the updates of the Chromium product they ship with their distro. If you compiled Chromium on your own, you need to update it as frequent as possible.
Crash and Error reporting
Same with upgrades above, Chromium builds do not contain the crash and error reporting of Google Chrome. Since the Chromium build is open source, people can modify it anyway they choose to. So if a crash report came from a Chromium build to Google, it would be useless as they would not know exactly what has been modified in the particular build. So to report bugs, you need to use the bug tracker.
Restrictions to the Chrome Web Store
Google only allows extensions from its web store and as I mentioned earlier, this can be bypassed by enabling developer mode.
So which one of these two browsers is better? I couldn’t really say. The Chromium browser is more popular on Linux because it conforms to the GPL licenses. But if you do not care for open source which means you don't care about what the program is doing with your data, then choose Google Chrome.
One other thing to note is that Google chrome is faster and handles some processes much better because it chooses the best product regardless of it being proprietary or open-source. Everything in Chromium is aimed at ending up in Google Chrome. Google Chrome adds unto Chromium hence more features and as such is not fully open source. So there you have it, open-source-ness or features, you decide. If you choose to go with Chromium, please note that you should update it yourself at least every few weeks to take advantage of bug fixes and also to stay safe. It’s a dangerous world online. Thanks for reading.