While Google Chrome might be the star of the Chromebook show, you can install different browsers on a Chromebook. Whether you’re a web developer testing a site on multiple browsers, or just someone who wants something different, you have the full range of Linux browsers available.
Why Use Different Browsers?
One reason to install different browsers is that you are a web developer. Different browsers can render websites in ways you wouldn’t expect. Many web developers have multiple browsers installed to test how their websites work.
Other people might want to try different browsers on a Chromebook. You might be wary of Google’s dominance of the browser market, or you might just wonder if there’s something better out there.
Fortunately, it’s easy to install different browsers on a Chromebook through Linux. Almost all new Chromebooks support installing the Linux environment. Once you’ve installed the default Debian environment, you can simply install the browsers you want using the APT package manager.
To install a browser, use the apt command:
sudo apt install browser
…where browser is the package name of the internet browser that you want to install.
After installing alternative browsers on your Chromebook, you can find them in the launcher with other apps.
Install Chromium on Chromebook
The Chromium browser is where the development for the main Chrome browser, including on the Chromebook, takes place. It’s effectively the open-source version of Chrome.
A lot of the other browsers in this list are based on Chromium. If you’re looking for a preview of what future versions of Chrome may bring, try Chromium.
One key difference between Chrome and Chromium is that Google has disabled their syncing features on the latter, so if you rely on these features, you might want to stick to the standard Chrome.
To install it, type:
sudo apt install chromium
How to Install Firefox in Chrome OS
While Chrome is still currently the most widely installed desktop browser, Firefox is still a popular “alternative” browser. While both Chromium and Firefox are open-source, the Mozilla Foundation develops Firefox under an explicitly non-profit stance.
The foundation is well-known for its pro-privacy stance. Firefox blocks trackers by default and can notify you if any data breaches contain your email address. Unlike Chromium, its optional syncing features are fully available.
The default Debian distribution in Chrome OS uses the Extended Support Release or ESR. To install it, you have to download the firefox-esr package:
sudo apt install firefox-esr
Installing Midori on Chromebook
Midori is another privacy-focused browser that like Chrome, attempts a minimalist design. Its functionality really is minimal. There are no plugins, and the only options in the browsers are forward, back, bookmark, view the page source, search in a page, and print the current page. It does offer tabbed browsing like other modern browsers.
Midori is developed by the Astian Foundation and has switched its rendering engine from WebKitGTK to Electron.
To install it, download the midori package using APT:
sudo apt install midori
How to Install Brave Browser
Like many of Chrome’s competitors, Brave touts its pro-privacy stance. It automatically blocks trackers as Firefox does. Brave claims this makes the browser run up to three times faster than Chrome while using less battery. You can even earn cryptocurrency for using it. Brave also blocks most ads automatically, without having to install a third-party plugin.
An interesting feature of Brave is that its private mode automatically engages Tor, something that incognito mode doesn’t. Chrome’s incognito mode still sends traffic in the clear on the conventional internet.
Brave also natively integrates with IPFS, the Interplanetary File System protocol. This is a distributed peer-to-peer filesystem that allows users to share files and download them similar to BitTorrent. This feature is optional and the browser will offer to enable it when you navigate to an IPFS address.
In Debian, you can install Brave using the brave-browser package:
sudo apt install brave-browser
Text-based browsers: Lynx and Links
While the previously mentioned browsers have been graphical, Linux on a Chromebook gives you the option to use text-based software in the terminal. This includes web browsers as well.
Why would you want to use a text-based browser when graphical browsers like Chrome are the default? There are several reasons.
When the internet first started to become available to the general public, people would dial in over modems through a communications program to remote systems that only offered text browsers because personal computers in the early ’90s typically didn’t have TCP/IP installed.
If you’re developing a web page, you’ll want to see how it looks on every browser, including text-based ones. For anyone interested in increasing your SEO skills, you’ll want to see how a web crawler like Google’s might parse your page.
People who are blind or visually impaired will often use text-based browsers with screen readers. If you can’t see images, there’s no point in running a graphical browser, even if they do work with screen readers.
Some people don’t like advertising or tracking. You can’t see ads at all in a text-based browser and trackers don’t work at all. These browsers also explicitly ask if you want to save any cookies.
The two major text-based browsers are Lynx and Links. Yes, the names are similar. Lynx dates back to 1992 and certainly feels like it. Even for a text-based program, Lynx can feel clunky at times. To install Lynx, type:
sudo apt install lynx
To use Lynx, run it at the terminal with the URL you want to visit:
Links is relatively newer and attempts to be more “user-friendly,” working more like a modern browser. You can install it using the links2 package:
sudo apt install links2
Running it is similar to Lynx:
You Can Use Different Browsers, Even on a Chromebook
Just because you’re using a Chromebook doesn’t mean that you have to just use Chrome. If you’re willing to use the Linux command line, you have access to a wide range of browsers.
Whether you’re testing your web app for compatibility or just want something different, you can pop open your terminal for alternatives in minutes. This is just a small taste of what you can do with Linux on a Chromebook.
Finished setting up Linux on your Chromebook but not sure what to do now? Here are three things that you can try.
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