Google’s Chrome browser and Chromium are both infamous in their own right in the browsing space. One is a free (albeit fairly commercial) closed source browser, and the other an open source browser project from which Google draws Chrome’s code.
They’re both available on Linux, but which one should you use? And more importantly, is Chromium a suitable alternative to Chrome? This article will attempt to answer that question.
The case for Chromium on Linux
Chromium looks exactly like Google Chrome on the surface. Like Chrome, the only real differences are what the browser has under the hood. Chromium doesn’t come with a lot of the things that Chrome ships with (video codecs and other things). For example: Google distributes a specially-made version of Adobe’s Flash plugin; Chromium does not as it is proprietary.
So, it doesn’t come with flash; that sounds really inconvenient. How could this be a suitable alternative to Google Chrome? Well, for starters, the Chromium browser is more readily available for more Linux distributions. Chrome is not. Most (if not all) Linux-based operating systems have a natively compiled version of the browser that you’ll be able to easily install from the software repositories.
When using Chrome on operating systems not officially supported by Google, you’ll have to convert the browser’s files so you can run it. This limits Chrome’s usefulness, and it sounds like a real pain even getting it to work if you don’t want to use Ubuntu, Open SUSE or Fedora.
In most cases, Chromium works as an awesome alternative to Google’s popular browser. Why? When you use this browser, you’re still getting everything you love about Chrome. You’ll still get Google’s browser sync with all its convenient features (incognito, password sync, form data, extensions, history, etc.).
Without describing every minute technical detail, it’s safe to say that Chromium really is the Google Chrome browser with a different icon and all of the closed source stuff ripped right out of it. I’m not wrong when I say that most people would barely be able to tell the difference.
The case against Chromium on Linux
With all the praises I’ve given Chromium, there are also some really harsh negatives for choosing it over Chrome. Perhaps one of the most important to bring up is that you can’t use Netflix. It just flat out doesn’t work. The Netflix website recognizes Chrome only when trying to play content through it. This is because Chromium is not packaged with the necessary closed source video codecs to play Netflix content. If that bothers you, don’t use Chromium.
The Chromium browser has very poor multimedia support, not just Netflix. As stated above, it lacks a decent version of flash. The good news is that you can install it and get it working. The bad news is you have to install it to get it working.
It isn’t just multimedia issues that Chromium suffers from. The built-in PDF viewer (which is closed source) isn’t included with the software. This is kind of a bummer, as it’s most certainly convenient to be able to pull up a PDF document right in your browser.
Overall, Chromium is a good browser and a good alternative where it counts, but it could never totally replace Google Chrome without a user making some key sacrifices. It’s a tradeoff, for sure.
One more thing. We have been talking about Linux distribution, but the fact is that installing Chromium on Windows and Mac is not as straightforward as Chrome.
Pros and Cons
- Open source and without proprietary codecs (if you like that kind of thing)
- Browser is more widely available on Linux than Chrome
- Includes almost all of the Google-centric features shipped with Chrome
- No proprietary codecs included means no HTML5 video support (e.g. Netflix and the like)
- No closed source plugins means no Adobe Flash included or the built-in PDF reader
- Updates aren’t as fast to ship as Chrome
Not readily available on Windows and Mac
If proprietary codecs and plugins are important to you, and you’re on an operating system that is supported by Google, there’s no question that Chrome is the way to go. If you aren’t, however, Chromium most certainly is an adequate alternative.
There’s no question that the Chromium browser couldn’t replace Chrome in all use cases. It just doesn’t have everything that everyone needs 100 percent of the time. When you need a Chrome-like experience and don’t have Google’s own software, this browser can do the job just fine.