Why You Shouldn’t Use (Most) Alternative Browsers Based on Google Chrome

Google Chrome is based on Chromium, an open-source browser project. Anyone can take the Chromium source code and use it to build their own browser, renaming it and changing whatever they like. That’s why there are so many alternative browsers based on Google Chrome—but you don’t necessarily want to use most of them.

Many web sites have recommended these browsers in the past—including us, in this very post. We’ve since rewritten this article to discuss the problems with some of these alternative browsers, and why we no longer recommend using them—with a few exceptions.

The “Secure” Comodo Dragon Had Big Security Problems

Comodo Dragon is a Chrome-based browser made by Comodo, a security company. It’s installed by default with Comodo Internet Security.

You’d think a “secure” web browser made by a security software company would be…well, secure, but it’s had some big problems. Google’s Tavis Ormandy found that the browser shipped with a serious problem that destroyed the security of HTTPS encryption. As he put it: “Chromodo is described as ‘highest levels of speed, security and privacy’, but actually disables all web security.”

Comodo responded by issuing a fix that didn’t actually fix the problem. Comodo did fix it eventually, but that doesn’t change the fact that such a glaring security problem shipped with the browser. Companies like Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, and Apple have never made such a big mistake in their products. Comodo doesn’t sound like a company we’d want to get our web browser from.

SRWare Iron’s Privacy Claims Are Exaggerated, and It’s Slow to Update

SRWare Iron promises to remove various privacy-infringing options from Google Chrome. But it isn’t as good as it sounds.

Right off the bat, there’s something we don’t like: On March 17, 2017, the latest version of SRWare Iron was version 56.0.2950.1. The latest version of Chrome was version 57.0.2987.110, released on March 16. That means SRWare Iron was missing more than 36 security fixes that Chrome had for over a week.

That’s because SRWare Iron’s developers have to do some work to release those security fixes whenever Google releases a new version of Chrome. It’s not instant, and these third-party projects may take a long time to issue updates if their developers are busy.

But here’s the real kicker: you aren’t really getting any extra privacy out of SRWare Iron. Most of what SRWare Iron does is possible through Chrome’s regular privacy settings. And if you enable those tweaks in Chrome, you’ll get the latest security updates without waiting for and trusting another company.

Chromium Isn’t For Users (Except on Linux)

Google doesn’t want you using the open-source Chromium browser. That’s why the Chromium project only offers “raw builds” of Chromium code that “may be tremendously buggy” for Windows. They also don’t include an auto-update feature, so you have to manually download new versions with security and bug fixes. These Chromium builds are really just development tools for checking whether issues are fixed in the latest Chromium code. Stay away.

Chromium’s main difference is that it’s entirely open-source, while Google Chrome includes a few closed-source pieces (like Flash). That’s why Chromium is often made available via the package repositories on Linux distributions. A Chromium browser obtained from your Linux package repositories should be safe and receive regular security updates from your Linux distribution. But Windows and Mac users should just install Chrome.

The Chrome-Based Browsers Worth Using: Opera, Vivaldi, and Chrome Portable

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Some browsers are solid alternatives to Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, and Internet Explorer.

Opera, for example, has been around in one form or another for a long time, with the first version of Opera being released back in 1995. In 2013, the company abandoned its old, homegrown browser engine, Presto, and Opera is now based on Chromium.

But Opera isn’t just a Chrome clone—it’s a unique browser with its own unique features, like a built-in VPN that can secure your web browsing.

Vivaldi is also based on Chromium, and was created by former Opera developers who disagree with Opera’s new direction. Released in 2016, Vivaldi attempts to restore various “power user” features the Opera project has removed. For example, Vivaldi allows you to make your tabs appear as vertical thumbnails, something that just isn’t possible in Chrome. The developers are working on adding a built-in email client, a feature no longer included on the latest versions of Opera.

Both Opera and Vivaldi support Chrome extensions, as they’re based on the same underlying technology. If you’re looking for a new browser that still uses Chrome’s speedy rendering engine and supports the same browser extensions you use in Chrome, these browsers are interesting options you may want to try.

Lastly, you may also consider a portable version of Chrome or Chromium. The Chromium Portable project, for example, is a customized build of Chromium designed to run as a “portable application“. If you place its files on a USB drive or other removable media device, you can take it between computers, using it on any PC without installing it first.

That said, Chromium Portable is based on the unstable “Dev” release channel of Google Chrome, which means it’s more unstable than the typical stable versions of Google Chrome. You probably aren’t looking for that. If you’d prefer a stable, portable version of Google Chrome, you’ll probably want to use the Google Chrome Portable package from PortableApps.com. Either way, both are decent, secure versions of Chrome.

Why Lesser-Known Browsers Are Suspect

There are other Chromium-based browsers out there. But we’re skeptical of them, and you should be too.

Here’s the issue: Browsers are very important programs. You spend almost all of your internet-connected time in a browser, so it needs to be secure. Part of that means getting security updates very quickly when they’re released, and smaller Chromium-based browsers don’t always do that. Furthermore, you’re trusting a small company or group of developers to make changes to your browser, which can introduce problems—intentional or not.

Comodo’s security problems and SRWare’s update delays are a few examples of the problems that can occur, even when a browser developer is acting in good faith. And if a browser developer isn’t acting in good faith, you’re in an even worse position: they could snoop on your web browsing and abuse its access to your computer.

Even if you don’t trust Google, Google is a large company with a lot of eyes on it. Google won’t steal your credit card number. If Google does something bad or makes a big mistake in Chrome, everyone will hear about it. The same isn’t true for these Chromium alternatives.

Many of the features promised in various third-party browsers can be achieved simply by tweaking Chrome’s settings or installing extensions from the Chrome Web Store. You’re better off using Google Chrome and installing a few browser extensions than switching to a Chrome-based alternative.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.