Chrome, Chromium, and Open-Source

I was discussing trends in technology with a colleague the other day. We were reminiscing about the “pre-internet days” and how far technology has progressed since. Near the end of the conversation I mentioned that I now spend more time collaborating through video conferences than I talk over the phone. With that thought I realized that the “cloud hype” generated by the media over the past few years has actually become my reality.

For example, in addition to clicking “Google Hangout” instead of dialing the phone, nearly all the productivity apps I use – word processing, spreadsheets, flow-charting, and email – are based in the cloud. Of course, all these cloud based applications are accessed through a web browser, which is now the nexus for much of what I do throughout the day. Consequently, browser choice has become a rather significant decision. If I’m going to spend a majority of the day in a single application then I want that application to be fast and easy to work with.

My current weapon of choice is Chrome. I’ve been using it for several years and like it quite a lot. Chrome was not included as part of my base Ubuntu distribution. Installing it was rather easy:

~$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:chromium-daily/stable
~$ sudo apt-get update
~$ sudo apt-get install chromium-browser

I was mildly confused by the name – chromium vs. chrome – and also by the icon that was included with the install –three shades of blue instead of red, green, yellow and blue. The browser looked and acted the same as the Chrome version I use on Windows and I didn’t dwell on the differences further. That is, until a few weeks ago when GoogleApps started to display the following message:

You are using an out of date version of Google Chrome. Some features may not work correctly. Upgrade to the latest version.

Upgrading an application is typically easily and should involve two simple commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

However, said commands never upgraded the browser. I was mildly annoyed by this and started digging to figure out why. The answer was interesting.

Chromium is actually the open-sourced project behind Chrome. Technically speaking, Chrome is not open-sourced because it includes an H264 Decoder and Adobe flash, both of which are considered closed-source. This conflicts with the open-source nature of Ubuntu Linux. As a result, the open-sourced Chromium is used as a base by the Ubuntu developers to build the release delivered through the ppa listed above.

The effective differences between the two browser versions are minimal*. One advantage of using Chromium is that it is explicitly tested to work with Ubuntu. Presumably, it may also include Ubuntu specific customization. A disadvantage is that the Chromium version blessed as “stable” can lag significantly behind Chrome. For example, as of this writing, my Chromium is Version 18.0.1025.168, whereas the Chrome install is Version 23.0.1271.95.

Chrome and Chromium can live side-by-side. Despite requiring a few extra commands, Chrome installs just as easily as Chromium:

wget -q -O - | sudo apt-key add -
sudo sh -c 'echo "deb stable main" >> /etc/apt/sources.list.d/google.list'
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install google-chrome-stable

That annoying warning message I mentioned above using GoogleApps through Chromium? It is completely gone using Chrome proper. Mission accomplished!

*See the Chrome wiki for details on the differences between Chrome and Chromium. This Ubuntu forum contains good detail as well.

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