Launched in September 2008, Google’s Chrome browser is now dominant in its share of the desktop web browser market, with approximately 1 in 4 Internet users interfacing with the web using the browser. What many Chrome users probably don’t know, however, is that it’s actually based off the open source Chromium browser, also developed by Google. Up until today Chrome for Android differed from its desktop counterpart in that it’s codebase wasn’t open source – meaning, the code for the app wasn’t publicly available for other developers to view, modify, and build upon. That changed today.
In a post in the /r/Android subreddit, an engineer of Chrome for Android announced that the mobile browser is now “almost entirely open source,” with the bulk of its code now available in the open source Chromium repository just like its desktop sibling. To explain the use of the word ‘almost’ in layman’s terms, Google saves certain features – particularly those which communicate with your Google account – for its commercial version of Chromium, which is the Chrome browser.
As Google makes the vast majority of its revenue through tremendously granular ad targeting by collecting lots of information about you through its own services, it obviously has to keep its control over the technologies (Search, Gmail, etc) powering that data collection. Copyright and intellectual property, or how Google protects the technologies that make it money, are an antithesis to the very idea of open source which is to share everything for others to use freely. The actual browser itself, however, doesn’t generate revenue for Google and by open-sourcing it the company gets the benefit of free development resources from community members interested in improving the browser for their own uses – as well as Google’s – through improvements in areas like load times and rendering capabilities, for example.
Now that Chrome for Android has been open-sourced through a Chromium version, developers can create new mobile browsers with their own unique features and takes on the web browsing experience using the same solid codebase powering Chrome and 1-in-4 desktop Internet users’ window to the web. The desktop version of the browser already powers popular alternatives like Opera and Vivaldi, so we can expect to see a lot of new ones available on mobile very soon.