Why Are So Many Browsers Based on Chromium?

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?

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Source: Netmarketshare, January 2019

Building browsers is hard

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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)
  • Many other things like a JavaScript engine, data storage, etc.

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

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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

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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

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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?

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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?

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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.

Image credits: 20120217 Chrome Extensions, The World Wide Web

5 comments

  1. “It’s where the extensions are”
    Firefox also has a lot of extensions.

    “Is Google getting my data from Chromium browsers?”
    If your Chromium-based browser is using Google Safe Browsing to check out the safety of sites you visit, then Google is tracking you.

    “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.”
    That sound like double-think to me. How can you have diversity if more and more browsers are using the same base?! To paraphrase Henry Ford “You can use ANY browser as long it is based on Chrome/Chromium.” If I did not know better, I would say that is the the dictionary definition of a monoculture.

    “There are still alternatives out there (and hopefully they’ll stick around”
    How much of a chance of sticking around do the alternatives have when even the mighty Microsoft caved in?! Inasmuch I do not like M$, they were providing an alternative. How long will it be before Apple also switches to Chromium in order to save on browser development/maintenance costs? Mozilla has already been Google-izing Firefox and SeaMonkey for a while. More and more Chrome/Chromium features are being incorporated into Mozilla products. It used to be that Microsoft was guilty of “Embracing, Expanding, Extinguishing” independent products. Now, it seems, Google has made that their goal.

    “as long as Google’s technology is going to be shaping the way we use the Internet, it might as well be open source”
    You mean “it might as well be Chromium”. Google is ensnaring us in its convenience.

    1. The Henry Ford quote could actually prove the opposite point as well–standardizing the basic processes for putting together a car enabled a whole host of new machines to be made using the same technology. The same is true in the browser market: Brave is using a Chromium base, but it’s got a lot of custom ad-blocking/crypto-enabled code in there, which are the important innovations it’s contributing to the market. If they had had to build their own browser engine, the project might not have gotten off the ground. So in some ways it’s a Chromium monoculture, but it’s also great because it lowers the barrier to entry for browser-creators with new ideas.

      That quote also has in interesting history–it is something Henry Ford wrote, but it wasn’t strictly true: the Model T actually came in a wide variety of colors up until WWI disrupted supplies and Ford pushed for standardized black, and after about a decade of all-black cars they went back to offering more colors.

  2. I find Firefox now performs as well as Chrome and it keeps us all from being sucked into a Google monopoly.

  3. A Chromium browser does not make it successful. We have seen many Chrome clone’s come out with a focus on different features and users interests. None of them seem real popular and end up along with all the other niche browsers at the bottom of market share. Can’t help but think Edge Chromium won’t be any different in its success except for possibly more Microsoft committed users sticking with the default instead of Chrome. Firefox is of more concern giving that the browser is slowing losing users all the while it does keep improving. The key factor is compatibility and web based apps coming onto the web scene. Firefox will have a big disadvantage over Chromium in terms of web development support given both Microsoft and Google will have their focus on Chromium. This will place Firefox and any Gecko engine based browser in a serious handicap.

  4. Sorry Firefox and Quantum engine, but your dying and Chromium is very much in control since most browsers being developed run Chromium. Even WebKit is a close second using some of what Chromium is today. I do not blame Microsoft for taking the path most traveled. Its certainly better then taking a chance on a engine that is losing market share not gaining it. If Microsoft has decided not to fight Chromium adoption, then obviously this doesn’t say much for how Mozilla will save Firefox.

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