- Unrestricted extensions
- User-friendly interface
- Foundation for many popular browsers
- No auto-updates
- RAM consumption
- Not as private as people believe
Chromium is an open source browser developed by Google that serves as the base for Google Chrome and many modern browsers such as Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, and more recently, the new version of Microsoft Edge. But, how does it stand alone as a browser? In all honesty, Chromium is not built for the general audience, as the majority of its users are instead developers, but it has a clean interface, the possibility to install extensions not only from the Web Store but also from third-party websites, and it's faster and gets earlier updates than Google Chrome does. On top of that, it does not have many privacy issues as its eldest son does. It sounds like the perfect browser, however, like everything else, Chromium has its own setbacks such as lack of stability, not updating automatically, and high RAM usage.
Features & Extensions
You can think of Google Chrome as Chromium on steroids, which means Chrome has more features, but for the most part, the browsers are equal. Maybe one of the most important differences feature-wise is that Chromium does not support AAC, H.264, and MP3, which means that if you want to stream things (Netflix for example) you will have to install the licensed codecs separately.
Another huge difference is that Chromium does not have auto-update – except if you are on Linux – meaning that you will have to manually download and install the program yourself every time you want to update. Moreover, Chromium also does not support the more secure Pepper API Flash Plugin that is automatically updated together with Chrome, but this is a minor downside nowadays.
On the other hand, Chromium supports more extensions than Google Chrome. While Chrome restricts you to installing extensions only from the Web Store by default, Chromium enables you to install any extension that you can find online, which means that there is a world of possibilities and a lot of customization that can be done.
Privacy & Security
Chromium and Chrome also have some differences when it comes to privacy and security. Some of them favor Chromium, while others do not.
Let's start with security and Chromium’s installation. While other browsers can be downloaded through their official websites, Chromium cannot, which means that you need to be sure that you are downloading Chromium from a trustworthy source. Since everyone can make their own browser version by building on top of the Chromium base, it's possible to make some changes that would make it unsafe such as adding malware to it or disabling the sandbox mode, which is there to prevent malware leaks to other software or webpages when visiting an infected website.
There is also the problem of not having auto-updates, especially outside the Linux world where there is no way to get the browser to automatically update. Of course, this is easily fixed – you just need to remember to make the manual updates yourself every time a new one comes out, though it can be a little tiresome since you have to reinstall the browser all the time. However, if you don't do this, you may end up using an old version of the browser with known issues that can be easily exploited by hackers.
On the other hand, Chromium is more private compared to Google Chrome since it can’t send crash reports and statistics to Google and by default, it doesn’t send information to improve Chromium/Chrome security. However, that doesn't mean the browser is entirely private to use since many settings that are enabled by default do send Google information. Some examples are autocompleting searches and URLs and showing suggestions of similar pages when a webpage cannot be found, among others. Of course, you can go to the configurations and change most of the settings, but there are other Chromium-based browsers out there that do this by default.
There are some great things about using Chromium – it's like using Google Chrome, but a little more private. This means that you get the same interface as Google Chrome, known for being user-friendly and customizable. In fact, since Chromium does not restrict extensions, it's even more customizable than Google Chrome, and you can do whatever you want with it. It also has the perk of being faster than Chrome, but at the cost of consuming more RAM.
Moreover, there is no way around the fact that Chromium is used as a foundation for other browsers and it's used for Chrome developers to test future updates. In other words, Chromium is not stable and may die on you without notice. Moreover, contrary to what we are used to, newer updates can actually bring new bugs and performance problems because it's not meant for general public use.
On the desktop side, you can use Chromium on Windows 7 and onwards, macOS X Yosemite or later, and Linux. On the mobile side, Chromium is only available for Android 4.04 and newer. Like on Windows, it's also tricky to install Chromium on mobile since it doesn't have an app on the Google Play Store and you will need to manually download the APK file. However, after the installation is complete, you will feel at home since the layout is very similar to other modern browsers.
As you can imagine, since it's not meant for general use, Chromium does not offer much customer support. You won't find an FAQ on its website and you won't find a Facebook account where you can get in touch with the customer support. However, it's worth noting that Chromium has an insightful blog with many interesting posts about its development and how security features work, among other things, though it's written more for developers than average users.
Chromium does have a Twitter account, but again, it's used to communicate with developers throughout the world. Of course, if you are a developer and have a helpful suggestion to make, this is the perfect channel to do so. Additionally, you can report both software and security bugs or lose yourself in the many entries its forum provides where you can also find more ‘basic’ information such as how to fix installation errors on specific devices or how to use a particular feature.
This browser has a reputation of not being aimed towards the general public for a reason. By itself, Chromium is just not suitable for the typical user since, to use this browser, it's essential that you know a thing or two about how software works. From making sure you install Chromium from a trustworthy source to not missing an update, it's just too much of a hassle for someone that only wants to use their browser for usual daily activities. Chromium can indeed be seen as Google Chrome with better privacy settings, but the truth is, you will still need to tweak some of the settings, something that you can do on Google Chrome for the same effect as well. It does open webpages faster than Chrome, but the amount of RAM consumption can be a problem for older machines. Nevertheless, we are extremely grateful for Chromium’s existence since, without it, many modern browsers probably wouldn't exist.