Switching to Chrom(ium)

For someone who works with, writes about and teaches cutting-edge technologies, I tend to be a bit of a laggard when adopting new ones. I upgrade my laptop and servers very conservatively. I got my first smartphone just earlier this year. I still use the Apache HTTP server, even though I know that nginx is a bit faster. And until recently, Mozilla's Firefox was my default browser.

Firefox is a remarkable piece of software, and it has been a massive success by any measure. It was around before and during Netscape's IPO, which marked the start of the IPO-crazy dot-com era. I then watched as it declined as a company, turning its flagship product (Firefox) into an open-source project before disappearing.

I used Firefox from its first pre-release versions and have been a loyal user ever since. This was not only because Firefox generally adhered to and promoted standards, but also because of the wide variety of plugins and extensions available for it. As a Web developer, I found that a combination of plugins—from Firebug to the aptly named Web developer to Tamper Data—gave me enormous power and flexibility when developing, debugging and working on Web applications.

During the past year, I've discovered that a very large number of non-techies have switched browsers. But, they haven't been switching to Firefox. Rather, they've been switching to Chrome, a relatively new browser whose development is sponsored by Google. I've certainly used Chrome through the years, and I've generally been impressed by its abilities. But for a long time, some combination of nostalgia and comfort with Firefox's tools kept me from switching.

Well, no more. As of recently, Google Chrome has become my browser of choice. In this article, I describe a bit about Chrome and why I've switched, both for personal use and browsing, and in my Web development work. In a future article, I'll explain how to write extensions for Chrome. One of the nice things about Chrome is that writing extensions is extremely easy and exclusively uses Web technologies (for example HTML, CSS and JavaScript).

I should make it clear before I continue that Chrome is not an open-source product. It is free-as-in-beer, but it isn't released under an open-source license. That said, there are several reasons why open-source advocates should take a look at Chrome. First, it is rapidly growing in popularity, with many developers and users alike adopting it. Just as my clients expect that I'll test Web applications against IE, they now expect that I'll test applications against Chrome. If you aren't including Chrome in your testing, you might be missing some issues in your site's design or functionality.

A second reason to look at Chrome is that although you might prefer open-source solutions, there are (as you know) many commercial solutions for Linux, and some of them are even of high quality. Ignoring these products doesn't make them go away, and it even can do a disservice to people who are more interested in having a computer "that just works" than one that is fully open source.

A third reason to look at Chrome is the level of sophisticated development tools it brings to the table. Web developers suffered for a long time with a lack of serious tools. Fortunately, Firebug came along and brought us to the next level. Chrome similarly has raised the bar for Web development tools, making it easier and faster to test and experiment with HTML, JavaScript and CSS. Google has its flaws as a company, but when it comes to development tools in general (and Web development tools in particular), you can be sure that Google is "eating its own dog food", as the saying goes.

The final reason is that Chrome can be thought of as a mostly open-source product. I realize this might sound similar to saying that a woman is only partly pregnant, but hear me out. From the beginning, Google has sponsored an open-source browser called Chromium that uses the same JavaScript and rendering engine. Most or all of Chrome's capabilities are in Chromium as well. From what I can tell, the main things you don't get in Chromium are automatic updates and access to the Chrome Web store for extensions.

Given my increasing misgivings about the amount of personal data that Google is collecting, I certainly can understand why someone would prefer Chromium to Chrome, or prefer to use a browser (such as Firefox) sponsored by a nonprofit, rather than a commercial company. That said, Google has used Chrome (among other things) to promote modern Web standards, which is good for all developers, regardless of what browser they use.

Installing and Using Chrome

Google Chrome isn't a new browser, even though I only recently switched to using it on a full-time basis. It first was released in 2008, and since then, it has been available on Windows, Macintosh and Linux systems, generally at the same time. Firefox users recently were surprised to find that their version numbers jumped significantly, and that new versions were being released on a rapid schedule. This happened in no small part thanks to Chrome, which is updated automatically on a regular basis by Google. These regular updates come with new version numbers, meaning that although Chrome has been out only for several years, version numbers already are in the 20s, with new versions pushed out every six weeks or so.

There are actually three different versions of Chrome: the standard production release is what the general public uses and is meant for non-developers. A "dev" release is for developers, and it has more functionality and features, at the price of being slightly less stable.

Another version of Chrome, namely Chrome Canary, includes a huge number of new features, but it isn't at all guaranteed to be stable. That said, when working on my Mac, I find that Chrome Canary certainly is stable enough for day-to-day use. It's unfortunate that Chrome Canary isn't yet available for Linux. Given the large number of Web developers using Linux, I would have expected Google to provide such a version, and hope it does so in the near future.

Basic Capabilities

At a basic level, Chrome offers the same sorts of features you would expect from any Web browser. It lets you enter URLs, search on the Web with your favorite search engine, interact with forms, watch videos, execute programs written in JavaScript, handle CSS markup and identify pages encrypted with SSL. But if it didn't do those things, as well as many other basics that everyone now associates with a Web browser, Chrome wouldn't even be a contender.

On the user interface front, it's true that Chrome is slightly cleaner than Firefox, with a window that appears to contain only tabs, and with tabs that can be moved from one window to another. Again, that's now the norm among Web browsers, and no one would use a browser that did anything differently.

So, why would someone like me switch to Chrome? First, I find that it runs faster than Firefox. The difference is no longer as pronounced as it once was, when Google set the standard with its V8 JavaScript execution environment. Firefox has caught up with Chrome's execution, and I say this not as someone who runs benchmarks, but who interacts with a Web browser on a very regular basis and who is sensitive to the speed with which Web applications execute.

A second reason to switch is, sadly, site compatibility. In Israel, for reasons that drive me mad, there still are some sites—including government and bank sites—that give preference to IE and that refuse to work with Firefox. When I call their support lines and ask for help with Firefox, I'm told that the site won't ever work with it. But Chrome is popular enough that they are (usually) willing to consider making it work better, or to adhere to standards.

Finally, as I mentioned above, the developer tools in Chrome are already excellent, and they are getting better with each release. Firebug continues to be a great tool, but I increasingly have found that Chrome does everything Firebug does, and often better and more intuitively.

If you just want to install Chromium, the open-source version of Chrome, you can do so with apt-get on Debian/Ubuntu or with yum on RPM-based machines. You also can download the source and compile it (although I haven't done so) from http://chromium.org. If you are comfortable with the proprietary version of Chrome, you can go to http://google.com/chrome, and download an appropriate .deb or .rpm file that will let you install Chrome on your machine. In the case of Chrome itself, you can choose from the stable or development branches, but you will need to install updates yourself manually. By contrast, because Chromium is an open-source project, it can be included in the standard Linux distribution channels and will be updated every time you do an apt-get upgrade.

Chrome (as opposed to Chromium) tries hard to get you to sign in with your Google account—the same one you would use with Gmail, Google Calendar and every other Google service. The good news with signing in with Google is that Chrome synchronizes your bookmarks and other settings across every copy of Chrome you're running. The bad news is that not everyone wants Google to have access to such information, of course.


Reuven M. Lerner, Linux Journal Senior Columnist, a longtime Web developer, consultant and trainer, is completing his PhD in learning sciences at Northwestern University.


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This is very much great!

Krishna Free Downloads's picture

I must say using Chrome iOS and its browser too is just wonderful and it really gives the sense of relief with speed as well as security!

Nice article

Downloads on Soft's picture

This is nice article!

Nice information, valuable

Glasgow airport cab's picture

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Computer Repair's picture

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Its best

Downloads on Soft's picture

I always love Chrome, since I replaced my browser from Firefox to Chrome. I Just love Google Chrome. Thanks!

I've never had a problem with

billwu's picture

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karlmark's picture

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I use mozilla for my work

Smita's picture

I use mozilla for my work purpose only. If we talk about the speed, Chrome is on the number one.

I think Firefox is the best

riinfotech's picture

I think Firefox is the best web browser than Google chrome

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Maxime Référencement's picture

Thanks for mentioning that Chromium isn't open source, it's actually very important. A classic move by Google is to offer a free service, until data mysteriously disappears ("not provided"...) unless you buy the "premium" product...
Le référencement sous Google

I understood Chromium IS FLOSS while Chrome is not

Anonymous's picture

Please fact check this.

After reading this article, I

Anonymous's picture

After reading this article, I checked the page source and was far from surprised to see the word "Google" infesting the msny lines of code right out of the gate.

I find it laughable that a magazine thinks it can sway readers with a flimsy article such as this. Google has its place, but Firefox still wins in terms of a browser.

IE? IE is for suckers, so that's a moot point.

Business is business, so I can't blame Linux Journal too much for this abysmal attempt to win over the masses for Google.

Chrome is still nice!

krishna Tech's picture

Yes Google Chrome is nice web browser I have ever seen. Firstly I was used to Firefox only, but later Chrome is my hero!

my favourite one

Dzak's picture

its my favourite one and the best chrome... and you'd like it more if you have an android mobile.


Chrome is my fav browser...

Dzak's picture

Chrome is my fav browser... because its must when you have android mobile. You can sync, send everything you want simple and fast.


Just a comment

Andrés González Cantú's picture

Dear Sir,

It is obvious that you value more the technical issues than your freedom an privacy as a computer user. Let me tell you a secret: if you want software that "just works" you don't need GNU/Linux at all.


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Web page printing // Java

David Russell's picture

1) One of the nicest things in Chrome is the ability to print to pdf, which I have not seen in any other browser.

2) Chrome prompts before allowing Java to run. Java can be suppressed in Firefox, but not in IE - which is one of IE's failings, a significant security issue.

yeah, about that

someone else's picture

1 - Opera had that long before Chrome was even an idea at Google.

2 - Don't install Java at all if you don't absolutely positively need it.

I am a recent convert to

N900's picture

I am a recent convert to Chrome. It runs circles around IE and Firefox in terms of speed. I also like the anti-malware features in it - plus the spell checker, which is invaluable for posting in my site: Losing weight or forums like this one.

Sticking with the FFox

vicar's picture

You lost me as a convert when Google insisted on "managing my bookmarks".

Firefox remains the browser

Anonymous's picture

Firefox remains the browser of choice. It's still more flexible than the others and is free of Google binding you into everything under its umbrella. I value independence

Chrome annoys me by not letting me control it.

Micha's picture

It always seems to me that the Google people assume that they know better than the user, therefore they would define the behaviour of the browser and let the user have very little control over it. One small example: I have some 1000-1500 bookmarks. The way for me to be able to use them is through a side panel, where I can view them, scroll, expand or contract folders etc. Current monitors tend to give you too little vertical pixels combined with too many horizontal ones, so a side panel lets you make a better use of your real estate. But Google doesn't give you the option. Why? Is it hard to implement? Doesn't sound hard to me, especially as it has been part of browsers since... well, maybe not Mosaic but definitely Netscape. So I can only attribute it to a "we know better what you need" kind of attitude. This alone has been enough to keep me from switching to Chrome, though I occasionally use it (and for me FF is also more convenient).

my story

 gentoo-user's picture

I've been an Opera-user for many years, until I, already years ago, switched to Chromium. I never got into Firefox for some reason, though I tested it every once in a while, I especially don't like the interface and such - after installing a bunch of add-ons I usually end up all addleheaded, not able to find what I am looking for.
In Chrome everything is arranged very intuitively, clean and clear, either in Omnibox or next to it. I can btw access and use all of Chromes extensions (like every Chromium-user), I even wrote my own little one, though I am quite a layman.

Sure, Google is the company behind Chrome and Chromium, which is kind of a downside - but to me it's the only noteworthy downside and not reason enough to switch to a significantly inferior browser. And I doubt Mozilla will redesign most of Firefox's look-and-feel, since most of the users seem to be satisfied by how things are...


Anonymous's picture

I remember when Firefox was called Firebird, and it has to be renamed to avoid the open-source database. I remember at the time that I didn't like the rebranding, but it really has grown on me over the years.

Firefox is still my browser of choice, although my second choice (when I need one) is Chrome.

Nightly builds of Chromium

triune's picture

Nightly builds of Chromium for Linux (w/ Chrome Store access) >> http://download-chromium.appspot.com/

No access to Chrome Store and Extensions......

roszyk's picture

I am running Chromium Version 25.0.1323.1 on Puppy Linux and I do have access to the Chrome Store and Extensions. The Auto-update seems to be the only difference with Chrome.

I'm worried

Anonymous's picture

Firefox is clearly developed with the best interests of the user in mind. Just look at how hard the organisation tries to promote the free exchange of ideas and information by keeping the web as neutral as it has the influence to.

Chrome on the other hand, is a repackaged open source project whose development is influenced to further Googles interests. It is slightly faster and feels a bit more polished, but that's simply because there is no point in google promoting a browser that no one wants to use. take away the competition and chrome will stagnate.

Allow google to gain the lions share of the browser market and progressively developers will start optimising websites and web applications for chrome(ium) only. We've seen it before and if we allow it, we'll see it again.

It's already starting to happen. AWS control panel is not usable with the current Firefox. That isn't Mozillas fault, it's Amazons. They are optimising for web-kit only browsers.

What a shame history has a habit of repeating the bad bits.

Tab Sync

Kellen's picture

Chrome IS able to sync your tabs between your phone and any other device running chrome. Of course you have to sign in with your google account.