Linux users have a lot of choice when it comes to web browsers, but Google Chrome still wins out over all the others, for its extensibility, great syncing features and usability.
Note: We know a lot of you Linux users value open source, so we think it’s worth noting that if you prefer an open source browser, you can grab Chromium for Linux as well, which is very similar to Chrome minus a few closed-source features (like its Flash plugin or the built-in PDF reader). You can download Chromium for Linux here, and see the full list of differences between Chrome and Chromium here.
- Tabbed browsing with pinnable tabs and regular tabs that are easy to reorganize or drag off into separate windows.
- Supports extensions that add new features to your browser, both from the Chrome Web Store and elsewhere.
- Sync passwords, bookmarks, preferences, themes, autofill information and extensions between Chrome installations through your Google account.
- Chrome “Omnibar” that lets you type in URLs and search terms in the same box.
- Automatically creates custom search engines and lets you create your own.
- Automatically recognises web content that’s not in your native language and offers to translate it for you.
- “Incognito Mode” for private browsing and other things.
- Choose from a variety of themes, or make your own.
- Each tab and plug-in is isolated, so tabs and plug-ins will only crash individually instead of bringing down the entire browser.
- Plenty of privacy preferences to keep Chrome from tracking what you do (which it does).
- An automatic update system that downloads and installs updates without you having to do anything.
- Safe browsing helps warn and protect you from phishing attacks and malicious web sites.
- URL-based settings pages so you can send people links to settings pages or just enter them in yourself, manually.
Chrome is the power user’s browser, and it’s easy to see why. Chrome’s biggest strength over other browsers lies in its usability. Chrome has really put a lot of thought into its UI, making it minimalist but powerful, smooth and easy to use. It also has an incredible library of extensions, not to mention it can sync everything — including extensions — to your Chrome installations on other computers. Its rapid release cycle is also great, so whenever a new feature is ready for Chrome, you’ll get it right away — no need to wait until the “next big version” that could be months away. It’s constantly improving and giving you more ways to make your workflow easier.
Chrome started off as a great lightweight browser, but over time has grown very resource-hungry, the very thing that made so many people leave Firefox. It also has a tendency to be unstable sometimes, crashing certain tabs or plug-ins for unknown reasons. There’s a lot of little annoyances, like its handling of SSL certificates, that make you scratch your head a little.
Chrome’s biggest downside, however, is its lack of customisability. It has a lot of incredible extensions, no doubt about that, but when it comes to the browser itself, it’s far, far behind something like Firefox. The interface is great, but you can’t really change anything, so you’re stuck with what Google gives you. In addition, there are a lot of more advanced options seemingly missing — like the ability to automatically focus a new tab — that you need to install new extensions to fix. Even disregarding Firefox’s super powerful
about:config and customisable
userChrome.css, Chrome could stand to have more options.
Chrome’s most obvious competition is, Firefox, which is still the default browser on many Linux distributions. Firefox kills Chrome in customisability but has fallen behind in other areas. Almost all Firefox’s extensions still require a restart of the browser to install and it still can’t sync them between installations, which seems ludicrous in this day and age. It also still carries the same memory leak and resource hogging issues that have plagued it for years, though users with more powerful computers may not notice (and we’re seeing these go away with every new version). Still, Firefox’s customisability is hard to beat. You can move toolbar items pretty much anywhere you want, tweak even the smallest features in
about:config, and fix every pixel of its UI with
userChrome.css. And, if I know Linux users (and I think I do), that’s something that’s a pretty big draw.
Opera, while not one of the most popular browsers, has a very dedicated following and it’s easy to see why. Its extension libraries aren’t quite as vast, but it’s pretty customisable, and has a lot of cool, well-integrated tab management features, BitTorrent support, blinding speed and a turbo mode that’s perfect for slow internet connections. If Firefox and Chrome aren’t doing it for you, Opera’s a breath of fresh air.
Lastly, Linux has a load of other smaller browsers, like Epiphany, which is a lightweight, straightforward browser for GNOME; Konqueror, which integrates very nicely with the KDE desktop and is pretty customisable and Midori, which has a nice little library of extensions that let you tweak how you use it (though it’s nowhere near the level of Firefox and Chrome). If you’re looking for something a bit simpler and a bit less bloated than the more popular browsers, check out one of these, as they’re likely to suit you better.
I find they’re great as secondary browsers for logging into alternate accounts, testing out web pages to see if my main browser is acting up and so on. Don’t expect the level of customisation and extensibility you get from the others, but if you don’t want life-changing extensions like LastPass, then you may not care.
Obviously, there are more smaller browsers for Linux that we didn’t touch on, but the audience for them is pretty small with browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Opera taking over the power user market with their comprehensive feature sets. Got a favourite we didn’t mention, though? Share it with us in the comments.
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