Google’s Chrome browser is based on its open-source Chromium project, which simply means that anyone can create a Chrome clone and distribute it publicly under the open source licensing terms. Similarly, Mozilla also releases its Firefox browser under the open source license which allows anyone to create a forked version of Firefox with specific customizations and features. We already have many successful projects like Opera (based on Chromium), Pale Moon and Waterfox (based on Firefox) offering additional features and user interfaces. Unfortunately, apart from few popular ones, most of the forked products are quite disappointing and should be avoided by the end users.
These small forked projects are maintained by small companies. Most of these projects are distributed along with few other services and tools. And, the revenue source and the real team behind such projects are not well defined.
For example, if you search for “browser” on Google Play store, you would get tons of third-party apps built on the top of AOSP or Chromium mobile browser and offering few minor changes like alternate UI or additional sets of features. No one exactly knows the exact changes made by the developers in these third-party browsers. And, how do these projects deal with the privacy of their users.
The biggest threat of these cloned projects is their slower release cycle. Google, Mozilla and other leading vendors keep an eye on the new vulnerabilities and bugs and quickly patch their products. That’s why users see frequent and regular updates for Chrome, Firefox, Opera etc. While the small browser projects depend upon their parent project to fix the bugs, they are always behind their respective parent project. In most cases, these small browsers hardly get regular updates to save their users from recently discovered security threats.
Two Examples: Aviator and Javelin
I would mention two examples of small alternate browser projects which are relatively popular but should be avoided.
WhiteHat Securities’ Aviator browser is based on Chromium project and claims to be the best to stop viruses, advertisers, hackers, and cyber-crooks and offers a great degree of security, privacy and speed. Well, the Chrome team recently warned users against Aviator. According to the Chrome team, Aviator browser is just a rebranded product and most of the claimed features can be easily enabled in Chrome browser by using available extensions. “Aviator is two major releases behind Chrome, and ships with dozens of publicly disclosed vulnerabilities that are already fixed in the stable Chrome release.”, describes Chrome team in a detailed post.
On the other hand, Javelin is a quite popular browser available for Android platform, and offers exciting user interface and features. I personally love Javelin for its refreshing design, but recently I discovered that it tracks its users using Google Analytics. The tracking is enabled by default for all users, and the option to disable tracking is provided in the Advanced Settings, the section often ignored by common users. Javelin browser is maintained by an independent developer and I couldn’t find any information on its usage tracking policies.