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Linux Mint introduces its own take on the Chromium web browser

Screenshot of Linux Mint 20's Cinnamon Desktop
(Image credit: Linux Mint)

The popular Linux Mint distribution has decided to compile and package the open source Chromium browser on its own, instead of relying on upstream versions from Ubuntu or Debian.

The move is the latest in the disagreements between Mint’s lead-developer, Clement "Clem" Lefebvre, and the Ubuntu distribution, on which Linux Mint is based. 

Linux Mint is what is known as a downstream distribution, and is affected by any changes to its upstream distribution, Ubuntu. It takes significant engineering efforts for downstream distros to ignore changes in their upstream projects. 

However that hasn’t stopped Mint from heading down this path in the interest of the community. The most significant example is the distro ditching the Gnome 3 desktop, instead deciding to develop its own Cinnamon desktop, which is no small feat. 

Don’t snap at me!

The latest Chromium announcement can be traced back to July 2019, which was the first time Clem expressed his displeasure with Ubuntu’s packaging decisions, particularly forcing the use of Snap packages.

Snap is one of the three all-in-one packaging formats, the other being Flatpak and AppImage, that hope to simplify installing apps in Linux.

Clem is one of the growing number of developers who aren’t impressed by Canonical’s handling of Snap, which relies on the Canonical controlled Ubuntu Store. 

His fears came true with the release of Ubuntu 20.04

“In the Ubuntu 20.04 package base, the Chromium package is indeed empty and acting, without your consent, as a backdoor by connecting your computer to the Ubuntu Store. Applications in this store cannot be patched, or pinned. You can't audit them, hold them, modify them, or even point Snap to a different store." 

I’ll be back

Linux Mint responded by dropping the Chromium browser from its next Ubuntu 20.04-based Linux Mint 20

And now it’s back - in Linux Mint style.

“To guarantee reactivity and timely updates we had to automate the process of detecting, packaging and compiling new versions of Chromium,” writes Clem in his latest monthly project update

It takes a significant amount of computing resources to compile the Chromium package. Clem shares that the Linux Mint project uses a Ryzen 9 3900 with 128GB RAM to reduce the compilation to a little over an hour: “We had to adapt a few things and there were hurdles along the way but it’s finally here.”

Linux Mint is essentially a donation-supported project and it’s moves such as these, that come at great monetary and engineering costs, that endear it to the open source community.