As of 2018, roughly sixty-five percent of Internet users browse the Internet using Google Chrome, and a steadily rising number are using browsers based on Chromium, Google’s open-source web browser project.
There’s a lot going on under the hood of your average browser, which is one reason why an increasing number of newer browsers are deciding to use Chromium components. Microsoft Edge has just announced that it will be making the switch, following lesser-known alternatives like Opera, Brave, Vivaldi, Yandex, and more. Why are the world’s browsers shifting towards Chromium, and what does it mean for the future?
Source: Netmarketshare, January 2019
Building browsers is hard
If coding up a good browser could be done by a small team in a few months, we’d probably have a lot more options. In order to get one up and running you need:
- User interface (all the buttons and things in the browser)
- Browser engine (takes your commands from the UI and sends them to the rendering engine)
- Rendering engine (shows you the stuff you want to see, usually from HTML/CSS)
These things aren’t quick to build on your own, and since good, well-maintained versions of them have already been built and are constantly being updated, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put in the energy.
Currently, there are only three projects at this level, each with their own browser engine forming the core of their operations: Google Chrome (Blink), Mozilla Firefox (Gecko), and Apple’s Safari (Webkit). Edge was in the running, but Microsoft is switching it over to Chromium as well.
Chromium has a huge, highly active development community
Since it’s open-source and used all over the web, Chrome/Chromium has gained a large community of developers who work on keeping the browser current and adding new features. Every new Chromium browser that comes along makes the original one stronger, as a lot of the work can easily travel between forks or even be used in non-browser projects. Bits and pieces of Chromium, like ANGLE, Skia, and V8, can be found powering everything from Spotify to Microsoft’s VS Code.
It’s where the extensions are
The formidable library of extensions is also a big draw: any browser based on Chromium can access all the third-party add-ons that help you customize your browsing according to your needs. If a development team wants to roll out an extension, it makes sense to prioritize Chrome. That’s where all the users are, and by basing your browser on Chrome, you get to ride along.
Chrome is shaping the Web
For better or for worse, Chrome is the way most people get around the Internet, so if you’re building a site, your top priority should be optimizing it for Chrome. In turn, if you want to make sure your browser will work with most sites and keep the underlying technology fresh, Chromium may be your best option.
Is Google getting my data from Chromium browsers?
One of the most common fears about Chromium is that Google’s code will do something tricky with your data. Chrome, and Google in general, have had privacy issues in the past, so it’s understandable that some people are wary of Chromium, but don’t panic.
Chromium is a completely open-source project, and the parts of it that communicate with Google are mostly part of Chrome, not Chromium. If there’s anything in the Chromium code they don’t like, developers can simply strip it out. Many privacy-focused browsers like Brave are based on Chromium but have taken care to “ungoogle” themselves.
How shiny is it, really?
There’s no denying that Chrome has a monopoly on internet browsing and Chromium is extending its tendrils throughout the world of browsers. There are arguments on both the pro and con side here:
Pro: Chromium is some of the best web browsing technology out there and is constantly being updated.
Con: With Chromium taking so much market share, it’s easy to imagine competition slowing down and browser technology getting less diverse.
Pro: Having Chromium as a platform makes it way easier for developers to build new browser ideas quickly and efficiently – it’s fairly easy to get diversity instead of a monoculture.
Con: All the Chromium-based browsers combined don’t even begin to touch Chrome’s market share, and a lot of them have issues.
Pro: It’s standardizing a lot of web technology, which is great for developers and enables everybody to be on more or less the same (web) page.
Con: Privacy and security could be more widely compromised if there’s an issue with Chromium.
Pro: Google probably isn’t spying on you through most Chromium-enabled browsers – the parts that send data back to Google can be removed.
Con: Google probably is spying on you through some Chromium-enabled browsers – not everybody takes out those pieces.
If you can’t beat ‘em, Chromium
If you enjoy open-source projects, fast browsing, and tons of extensions, there’s no reason to pass up a Chromium browser. It’s a popular project for a good reason, and with so many forks coming out and development communities coming on board, it’s only getting better.
There are still alternatives out there (and hopefully they’ll stick around; uncontested Chromium dominance isn’t the best-case scenario), but as long as Google’s technology is going to be shaping the way we use the Internet, it might as well be open source.
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