Browser Battles: Opera, CrossOver Chromium and Flock
At the time of this writing, the recent Google Chrome browser is available natively only on the Windows platform with a Linux edition still in development. The idea behind Chrome is to remedy the past “mistakes” made by browser makers and provide a tool that also runs applications and not just displays Web pages.
Thanks to good ol' Linux-geek ingenuity, however, we don't have to wait for the Google folks to finish their project. Instead, CodeWeavers, makers of the CrossOver line of Wine-based applications, has created CrossOver Chromium, a Linux “port” of Google Chrome.
Although the situation may change by the time you read this, the reality is that CrossOver Chromium is betaware and not yet ready for prime time. On Chromium's status, CodeWeavers offers the warning that it is “just a proof of concept, for fun, and to showcase what Wine can do”.
You'll also like Chromium if you prefer a lack of clutter over feature-rich functionality. I've been told that the Windows version is fast as lightning, as reputedly shall be Chrome for Linux, but Chromium certainly is more like thunder than lightning.
One unique feature our ilk will love on Chromium is the (for real) “Stats for nerds” function. When you call forth the task manager, you'll get a list of open Web pages, complete with memory status, CPU usage and network speed related to each page. On the task manager, in addition to an option to kill the process for each open page, you also can click on a Stats for nerds link, which pulls up a new tab complete with additional information such as PID, memory utilization for both the entire browser and each tab.
I also like Chromium's option to open a number of home pages upon startup and not just one. Apparently unique to Chromium is another neat feature, incognito browsing, which allows the user to leave no local trace in the browser or cache of what's been viewed.
On the frustrating side, although you'll find Chromium functional for loading Web pages, it feels a bit slow and clunky. Furthermore, Chromium lacks an integrated non-Web-based RSS reader, which Firefox and Opera have right in the address bar. It also lacks extensive bookmark management, which most other full-featured browsers have. Another core issue is privacy on Chromium, because Google collects usage statistics and crash reports from you as a default. Luckily, you can turn this off by selecting Options from the “wrench” menu.
In the future, Google says we can expect currently absent features to become available, such as better bookmark management, an extension framework, a way to e-mail complete Web pages and links easily and more.
The take-home message on Chromium is that it is a Spartan browser with few bells and whistles whose post-beta experience is slated to be lightning fast on the Linux platform. For now though, CrossOver Chromium is a sluggish prototype held together by lots of virtual duct tape. We can only hope that the native Linux version of Chrome will be so blindingly fast that it gives us a reason to consider leaving its bulkier competitors behind.
At the far opposite end of the philosophical spectrum from the slim Chromium lies Flock, the Swiss Army knife of browsers. Flock takes the “portal” approach to browsing, adhering to a philosophy that efficiency lies in consolidation rather than raw page-load speed. Based on the latest Gecko engine with a number of specialized extensions, Flock bills itself as “The Social Web Browser” that “collects all of your feeds, friends, media and sites in one convenient place”.
The reason for such a billing is that Flock wants you to do nearly everything from a unified command center. This includes interacting with social networking sites (such as Facebook and Twitter), photo and video search (such as Flickr and YouTube), photo uploading and sharing (such as Picasa and Photobucket), blogging (such as Blogger and LiveJournal), news consolidation with custom RSS feeds and bookmark syncing with on-line bookmark services (such as delicious and magnolia).
The key to keeping all this stuff straight is the Flock Toolbar, which offers an icon that represents each type of media by function (Figure 4). These icons include My World, a home base of sorts that includes the information you want, such as news feeds and your Facebook friends; the People Sidebar for social networking interactions; the Media Bar for quick video and photo searches; the Feeds Sidebar for managing RSS; Webmail for interfacing with Web-based e-mail services; Favorites (bookmarks); the Accounts and Services Sidebar for managing accounts and logins; the Web Clipboard, a location to which you can drag links, images and text to save for later perusal; the Blog Editor and the Photo Uploader. Besides all this, you can, of course, simply surf the Web conventionally.
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.