Open-Source-Adventskalender: Die Browser-Engine Chromium

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This is an advent calendar for techies. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything belongs to a large Internet corporation. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently checked for possible security gaps and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the drive for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to society.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing. Some projects are backed by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time employees or a consortium. The work is done entirely on a voluntary basis, or it is financed through donations, cooperation with Internet companies, government funding or an open source business model. Regardless of whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether a PC program, app or operating system – the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

Chromium paved Google’s way to the top of the browser market. Thanks to the open source project, an industry newcomer and latecomer became a global market and technology leader in just four years.

Chromium is a browser engine: the technological substructure that regulates how an appealing website in the browser is created from an HTML file with its multimedia elements. The engine is a package made up of the HTML visualizer Blink (a fork of the Apple WebKit engine) and the JavaScript implementation V8. Chromium is part of the Google parent company Alphabet and is under a BSD 3-Clause license. The engine is the basis of the Google browser Chromecontaining additional proprietary building blocks.

The Chromium engine dominates almost three quarters (73 percent) of the global browser market. According to the statistics project Statcounter.com Chrome had a market share of 64 percent in November 2021. The shares of browser competitors who also use the Chromium substructure must be added: the largest are Microsoft Edge (four percent), Samsung Internet (three percent) and Opera (two percent). Again, the numbers have to be reduced somewhat due to Apple’s corporate policy. This forces browser manufacturers to use Apple’s own WebKit engine on iOS devices. The iPhone versions of Chrome, Edge and Opera therefore do not run on Chromium, but on WebKit.

Am 2. September 2008 Google introduced the Chrome browser and Chromium as an open source engine. The market share of Chrome and thus Chromium has increased steadily since then. According to Statcounter.com, Chrome overtook Firefox in late 2011 to become number two in the browser market. Only six months later, in mid-2012, the long-standing market leader was also overthrown: Chrome overtook Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Google only earns money indirectly with Chromium and Chrome. The word Chromium does not appear once in the annual report of the parent company Alphabet Inc. for 2020. And specific references to cash flows that are related to the Chrome browser can be found in a list of the various Ingestion groups not. Chrome is strategically eminently important, as the browser complements the Group’s data treasure trove. Thanks to Chrome, the Google advertising networks have even more information available for target group-specific advertising.

The search algorithm also benefits. If Chrome is used, Google not only knows which search hits are clicked on, but can also understand what users do afterwards: whether they stay longer on the website or leave it immediately because the content of the hit did not match the search term well.

Chrome is another component that ensures that many users never leave the Google product universe: They use a smartphone with Google Android. Its default settings regulate that all data from Google programs and services end up on Google. You surf with the preinstalled Chrome browser. You start your web tour on Google.de. And most of the websites they land on use Google Analytics and have built-in Google advertising networks such as DoubleClick, AdSense or AdMob. The Google browser is always with you.

In addition, having your own browser saves a lot of money: Google no longer has to pay other browser providers hundreds of millions (as with Mozilla) or even billions of US dollars (as with Apple) to be preset as a search engine.

Chromium’s contribution to the company’s success is also indirect. What succeeded with Android at around the same time also succeeded with Chromium: Google has created an open source project, on which the greats in the technology industry are working, and made it a pillar of its own data and economic power.

Firefox and its predecessor Netscape Navigator had been on the market with the Gecko engine since 1994, Microsoft with Internet Explorer and the Trident engine from 1995 and Apple with Safari and WebKit from 2003. Google has been on this established market in just four years Chrome has become the browser market leader. And with Chromium, the latecomer has taken the lead in technology and ensured that it can set the technological standards.

At some point, in a memorable step, Microsoft also admitted that Google has mastered the browser business better than others. The company had been using its own browser engines for a quarter of a century, and by 2020 that was history. Since then, Microsoft Edge has also been based on: Chromium.

The work on the series of articles is based in part on a “Neustart Kultur” grant from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, awarded by VG Wort.


(mho)

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