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Chrome for Linux: Good Browsers Come to Those Who Wait

Chrome for Linux: Good Browsers Come to Those Who Wait

About a year after it first appeared as a Windows application, Google's Chrome browser is finally available in beta for Linux. Google had to limit its compatible distro list to a handful of popular Linux versions, but those who can use it will likely enjoy its speed, features and the hundreds of extensions Google has made available.

By Jack M. Germain
12/16/09 4:00 AM PT

Google finally released a beta version of its Chrome Web browser for Linux on Dec. 8, slightly more than one year after releasing its Chrome browser for Microsoft Windows. The wait was worth it, especially given the more than 300 extensions already available to customize the new browser.

Because Linux distributions are numerous, Google ported the Chrome code to a select handful of the most popular distros. Chrome for Linux is so far only available for the Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSuse distros.

Similar to Google Chrome for Windows and Mac (also just released), Google focused on speed, stability and security in building the Linux version. However, Google also wanted a high-performance browser that integrated well with the Linux ecosystem, according to Brian Rakowski, product manager.

"This includes tight integration with native GTK themes, updates that are managed by the standard system package manager and many other features that fit in natively with the operating system where possible," Rakowski said.

True to Its Roots

In developing the Linux version of the Google Chrome browser, company officials decided not to keep the project exclusively in-house. Instead, it sought help from the open source community that was already well-versed in the Chromium Project, said Rakowski. More than 50 open source contributors that worked on Chromium were helpful in delivering the Linux version of Google Chrome, he added.

Chromium is an open source browser project with a goal of building a safer, faster and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the Web. Like the Windows version, Google's Chrome browser for Linux is fast, secure, stable, simple, extensible and embraces open standards like HTML5, according to sofware engineers Dan Kegel and Evan Martin.

"Google Chrome works well with both Gnome and KDE and is updated via the normal system package manager. It has also been developed as a true open source project, using public mailing lists, IRC channels, bug tracker, code repository, and continuous build and test farm -- following in large part the trail blazed by Mozilla," they wrote.

Where they noticed problems in system libraries, the Chrome developers pushed fixes upstream and filed bug reports. This open approach to development seems to be working, noted Kegel and Martin.

Hands-On Account

Google Chrome Beta for Linux has much of the look and feel of the established Windows version. However, under the hood are telltale signs that the code is carefully tuned to integrate with the Linux architecture.

I use Chrome for Windows on several of my PCs. Thus, my first exposure to the Linux version of the Chrome Beta on my Ubuntu desktop and Ubuntu-based netbook was a simple venture into familiar territory. The user interface (UI) is largely the same.

Installation, as expected, was fast and sure. Browser settings and bookmarks were imported from my Firefox browser painlessly.

I thought I had lucked out in being able to port the Google Chrome Beta over to my two computers that run the Puppy Linux distribution. One of the Puppy community members recompiled the binary code to convert the .Deb package of Google Chrome into a .Pet package for Puppy Linux. However, a key library was missing, causing Google Chrome to flash on the screen and then disappear.

Extensions Galore

Speedy, tabbed browsers are becoming the standard today. So a new browser candidate needs some extra oomph to give users enough reasons to switch from their current browser of choice. Google accomplishes this with its gallery of extensions.

The vast array of extensions available in the Firefox and the Seamonkey browsers push their usefulness high up on the browser list. Google Chrome jumps to the top of that list with its more than 300 browser extensions developed specifically for Chrome.

I found Chrome versions of many of my favorite Firefox add-ons. This makes it much easier to switch my work routine from one browser to the other without missing anything.

When Google first launched the Windows Chrome version in September 2008, the plan was to make it easy to customize the browser with extensions. Google also wanted to make extensions easy to create and maintain, while also preserving Google Chrome's speed and stability, noted Rakowski.

Mostly, Google met that goal. Each extension runs in its own process to avoid crashing or significantly slowing down the browser.

Other Notable Features

Google Chrome beta for Linux has a lot of nice features. It did not take me long to find my favorites.

For instance, the pin tab feature locks a Web site in place with a right click. It reduces the size of the tab for the pinned URLs so they are quickly found among a growing list of opened browser tabs.

Another gem is the ability to preselect URLs to open when the browser loads. Sure, a few other browsers have a similar feature, called a "personal tool bar." But Chrome lets me do it with a right click of the mouse.

I also like the ability to use the system title bar and borders within the browser by right clicking on tab bar.


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