Google is stripping Chromium of access to its APIs, which will have a ripple effect across numerous browsers. Jack Wallen thinks this is a chance for Chromium to step up and shine.

Image: Google

The proprietary Chrome browser is built on the open source Chromium browser. Other browsers are built on Chromium, such as Opera, Microsoft Edge, Vivaldi, and Brave. These browsers absolutely depend on Chromium, and each add their own take on the web browser. Without Chromium, these browsers might not exist.

Up to this point, the differences between Chrome and Chromium were minimal. If you enjoyed a feature on Chrome, chances were good it’d be there in Chromium. That being the case, why choose one over the other? The biggest reason for many is the open source nature of Chromium. It just felt better making that choice.

Google is making that choice a bit harder now. Starting March 15, 2021, Google is stripping Chromium access to a number of APIs, such as those used for sync features. The reason for this, Jochen Eisinger, Chrome engineering director, states, “We discovered that some third-party Chromium-based browsers were able to integrate Google features, such as Chrome Sync and Click To Call, that are only intended for Google’s use.” 

In other words, those third-party browsers were making use of features Google didn’t want them to have. 

Let me preface this by saying, I get it. These are Google features that the company wants to only have available for Google users. That’s fair. Google must protect its APIs and its IP. On top of which, Google has to have some value-add for its Chrome browser–otherwise how would the company entice people to use it?

Let’s unpack that last statement.

As of right now, Google Chrome has 63.54% of the global web browser market share. The problem with that figure is it doesn’t distinguish Chrome from Chromium. In fact, trying to locate Chromium market share is a deep, deep rabbit hole with little to no results. It’s fair to say that the 63% market share held by Chrome is actually shared by Chromium. That certainly complicates things because you can’t point to Chromium and claim stripping it of features would affect its market share.

SEE: Git guide for IT pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The downstream effect

Here’s the problem: Yes, third-party web browsers are making use of Google APIs, and that’s a legitimate complaint on the part of Google, but by doing so, Google is ensuring that those third-party web browsers will be stripped of features. For some, like the Windows Edge browser and Vivaldi, that’s fine, because they have their own sync services in place. What about the smaller projects (based on Chromium)? Will they even have the resources to build out such services? Probably not. What about other features being removed, such as the Chrome Spelling API, the Contacts API, and the Chrome Translate Element. 

In effect, what Google is doing is taking its toys and going home. That’s fine, as the toys are Google’s to take. However, condemning those smaller projects to such a fate is a very, well, Google-ish way of doing things.

Yet again…I get it. No one truly knows the reasoning behind Google’s move, we can only speculate. Possible reasons could be…

To be perfectly honest, I cannot come up with a sufficient list of reasons why Google would pull this off. The only legitimate reason I can think of is security. We live in a day and age where security and privacy is at the top of every company and developer list of important things. With Google allowing third-party access to its APIs, the law of averages would eventually catch up to them and billions of Google account users could find their data leaked for the world to see and steal.

That’s not a chance Google would want to take.

From that perspective, I can certainly understand why Google will pull access to the APIs. 

Because this will affect other browsers, those browsers are going to have to take action if they want to continue competing in an already challenging world. Or, there’s an easier path to take.

A better way this could play out

Instead of all of those third-party browsers having to build services to replace what Google has removed from Chromium, the developers of the open source Chromium could roll their own. I realize this is placing a great deal of extra work on the shoulders of those developers, but it would be work that could pay off. The service wouldn’t have to start off on a grand scale. At first, Chromium could include the ability to sync user information (such as bookmarks, passwords, tabs, etc.) to all browsers associated with an account. 

Such a feature could be made available downstream, so all browsers based on Chromium wouldn’t miss out. Browsers, such as Vivaldi and Edge (that already include sync) could opt out of the Chromium take on sync. Or, they could allow users the option to choose which sync feature to use. Imagine having the ability to use Chromium on one device and Vivaldi on another, keeping all of that data in sync.

Of course, I’m not a developer, so whether or not that’s even possible is beyond my pay grade. Truth be told, just because Google has taken its toys and gone home, doesn’t mean Chromium has to hang its head and leave the playground. In fact, this is a perfect time for Chromium to show its mettle and offer users an all-too-familiar browser, without the Google-branded bits, which includes the features users have grown to depend on. To make this even more appealing, all of those browsers based on Chromium would be able to make use of–and even contribute to–these features.

That’s the beauty of Chromium being open source. When the Chromium developers create a must-have feature that Google wants, they can show them what good stewardship is all about.

This is a perfect opportunity for Chromium to really shine. 

This whole kerfuffle makes me glad I switched from Chrome long ago. Lately, I’ve been using Vivaldi as my browser of choice, and it’s been working fabulously, and the Vivaldi sync service is working just fine.

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