What’s the difference between Google Chrome and Chromium?
Chrome was initially released in 2008. At the outset, Google based Chrome’s rendering engine on the WebKit engine Apple used for Safari, providing it a standards-compliant engine that was already widely used and had a high degree of compatibility. In 2013, however, Google made the decision to fork WebKit, creating its own Blink rendering engine (via Wired).
In the ensuing years, Chrome has eclipsed every other browser, including Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge. Only Safari remains relatively close on smartphones and tablets, thanks to being Apple’s default web browser.
Just as Safari benefits from being Apple’s default browser, Chrome benefits from being a core part of Google’s ecosystem. When users visit any of Google’s online properties using another browser, they are often prompted to download Chrome. Similarly, Chrome is included on virtually all Android smartphones and tablets, giving it a leg up on competitors.
Much of the software Google uses is based on open-source elements that Google then customizes with their services, and Chrome is no exception. Chromium is the open-source version of Chrome, before the company adds their various services and integrations.
Because it is open-source, Chromium is used as the foundation of other leading browsers, including Microsoft Edge, Opera, Vivaldi, and the privacy-focused Brave. Basing a browser on Chromium offers many of the same advantages as Google experienced when it decided to base early Chrome builds off of WebKit, including compatibility. The allows a browser’s developers to focus on features and functionality, rather than reinventing the rendering engine wheel.
Microsoft Edge and Opera are two good examples of this. Both browsers were initially based on their own rendering engines. Ongoing compatibility issues, as well as inferior performance, caused both companies to adopt Chromium as the foundation of their browsers, allowing them to benefit from the work Google had already done.
In addition to Edge, Opera, and other browsers based on Chrome, users can download Chromium directly, essentially enjoying a Chrome-style browser without Google’s add-ons.
Chrome vs Chromium: Which Is Better?
Despite sharing the same code base, there is one major difference between Chrome and Chromium: privacy.
At its heart, Google is an advertising company that makes its money selling ads and monetizing user data. As a result, it’s no big surprise the company would want to develop and control its own web browser, since a browser is the primary vehicle by which users see and are targeted by online ads.
Because of this relationship, Google has no real incentive to protect the privacy of its Chrome users, beyond what is absolutely required to not scare users off. In contrast, companies like Mozilla Firefox and Brave place user privacy front-and-center.
To a large degree, Chromium avoids many of these issues, since it’s built off of the open-source codebase — before Google adds in privacy-compromising features. At the same time, Chromium still has the same speed, compatibility, and access to Google Chrome extensions.
As a result, unless there is a very specific reason to use Chrome, anyone concerned about their privacy should use Chromium, or a Chromium-based alternative.