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Google's Chromium browser explained

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 one-sixth of one percent of all those who ran a browser last month.

Computerworld put Chrome and Chromium 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. 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 one, started serious input this year; see the “And now Microsoft’s Edge?” section below for more information.)

The browser compiled from the current Chromium source code is called not surprisingly, Chromium. Chrome, on the other hand, begins with Chromium but does not end with it. Instead, Google adds proprietary code to Chromium, either its own, like the browser’s automated update mechanism, or someone else’s, such as Adobe Flash (for now at least), to create Chrome.

Think of Chromium as an ancestor of Chrome – and not necessarily an immediate one, either – which shares the same DNA as the polished browser.

How is Chromium different from Chrome?

Chromium is a subset of Chrome, since Google bolts on other components and features to the former to craft the latter. Everything in Chromium is in Chrome, but not everything in Chrome is in Chromium.

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

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