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Google’s Chromium browser explained | Computerworld

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While the names are similar — Chrome and Chromium — the labels represent two different web browsers. But they are related.

One leads to the other. One is open-source, the other is not — not really. One dominates the world’s browser landscape, like a single huskie dominates a team of Chihuahuas on the Iditarod. The other is used by less than 0.03 percent of all those who ran a browser last month.

Computerworld has put Chrome and Chromium — and Microsoft’s new Edge, too — under the magnifying glass to better understand what Chromium does and how it figures into the development of its offspring. Here’s what you need to know to better understand them both.

What is the Chromium browser?

Chromium is not only the name of a browser, but also of the open-source project that generates the source code used by Chrome, Edge and others. Google is the primary backer of Chromium — it kicked off the project when it launched Chrome in September 2008 — but because the code is open-source, others, including people not employed by Google, contribute to the Chromium project. Microsoft, for example, started providing serious input into Chromium in 2019 and regularly boasts about how many “commits” its engineers have contributed to Chromium. In October 2020, the Redmond, Wash. company said its commits — changes made to the source code — had reached 3,700.

The browser compiled from the current Chromium source code is called, not surprisingly, Chromium. Chrome and Edge, on the other hand, begin with Chromium but do not end with it. Instead, Google and Microsoft add their own proprietary code to Chromium that build services like the browser’s automated update mechanism and features such as its tab user experience (UX), to create the actual Chrome and Edge.

Think of Chromium as an ancestor of Chrome and Edge — and not necessarily a close one — that shares its DNA with the polished browsers.

How does Chromium differ from Chrome?

Chromium is a subset of Chrome and of Edge, since Google and Microsoft bolt on other components and features to the former to craft their wares. Everything in Chromium is in Chrome and in Edge, but not everything in Chrome or Edge is in Chromium.

The obvious differences lie in accompanying services that Google provides — like the automatic update mechanism — or built-in support for technologies such as digital rights management (DRM) components that let Chrome and Edge play copyrighted content.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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