Sunday, February 06, 2011

Chrome 9 on Linux

Chrome running on Redhat Enterprise Linux 6 host OS.
Chrome is playing back a YouTube video using HTML 5.

In the course of my real work, I've had the opportunity to try out various combinations of Linux and Chrome on some of my lab systems, just to see how it all works together. I've installed Chrome on two versions of Linux; RHEL 6 and Fedora 14.

Chrome was installed on RHEL 6 using the bog-standard Google-supplied RPM. I originally installed Chrome version 8 in this manner. What I noticed and certainly appreciated about Chrome on RHEL 6 is that Chrome 'inserted' itself into the regular software update structure of RHEL 6. Now, every time a new release is pushed out, the update icon lights up on the panel, and when I click on it, Chrome updates are installed just like they are under Windows. The installation under Fedora 14 is through the regular repositories, and updates come along with all the other Fedora updates. Again, smooth, simple, and clean.

Chrome 9 on RHEL 6 is extremely fast to start; so fast, that I barely have time to lift my finger off of the left mouse button before the window appears. Chrome 9 on RHEL 6 renders every site I care about without flaw and with excellent speed, just like Chrome under Windows. In short, for 99% of everything I do on the web, Chrome 9 on RHEL 6 is indistinguishable from Chrome 9 on Windows XP.

That 1%, however, is important. That's where I lump Adobe Flash support. Chrome for Linux x86-64 doesn't come bundled with Flash the way it does for Windows XP 32-bit. As a consequence I try to use HTML 5, especially for YouTube. YouTube now allows you to opt-in to using HTML5 video if your browser can support it. I've done this already for Firefox and Chrome under Windows, and it works. It works equally well (or, depending on your point of view, equally bad) under RHEL 6. If the video is encoded to play with the video tag and (I assume) Google's codec, then it plays smoothly, and the audio plays equally well. If it isn't encoded to play with the video tag, then I get the regular "you must use Flash x" message. In fact, if you look at the first screen capture, you'll see the message underneath the video exhorting me to upgrade to Flash 10 "for improved playback performance." Interesting.

Chrome 9 on RHEL 6 and crashing while attempting to run a WebGL demo application.
Only the application crashed, not the browser.

While most everything works just fine in Chrome 9 on RHEL 6, WebGL is another story. The screen capture above shows just one of the example WebGL demos crashing out on Chrome 9. This isn't a knock against Linux, it's actually a knock on Chrome. I can assure you that WebGL demos fail just as spectacularly under Windows XP.

Lab machine setup, with VirtualBox hosting a running instance of Fedora 14 in the background,
and attempting to boot openSUSE 11.4 milestone 6 in another VM in the foreground.

One other test was to attempt to boot openSUSE 11.4, milestone 6, using a VirtualBox VM for openSUSE 64-bit. I should note I'm still using VirtualBox 3.2.12. When I attempted to boot openSUSE M6, it crashed. I have no idea why, and I'll probably try this again when the release candidates start to roll out, but I would want to try this with VirtualBox 4.0.2 to see if the same behavior occurs again. Unfortunately, I now have a stable installation with RHEL 6, VB 3.2.12, and all my other VMs where everything works, including virtualized USB device support, so I'm in no hurry to break that with an upgrade just to satisfy my curiosity. Too many other distros work under my current lab setup. I have no burning reason to get openSUSE running, except perhaps nostalgia. They don't pay me to be nostalgic where I work.

On the right hardware platform, and for the right reasons, Linux is every bit as solid as any other commercially available OS; Windows, Mac OS X, and Solaris. I didn't say it was better, I said it was just as good, and a worthy option when considering an OS platform. Every tool should be selected based on merit, not ideology. And there's plenty of merit in some of the Linux distributions.


  1. Are you sure the crashes isn't caused by a driver + GPU problem? I'm of course not questioning your experience, but I just run a bunch of demos on my home PC and none caused Chromium 9 to crash.

  2. I can certainly buy into a driver issue with Linux, even with RHEL. But driver issues under Windows are a lot less understandable. Everything except WebGL under Chrome works fine.

    The bigger issue is; in the second decade of the twenty-first century, why is the issue of driver-GPU issues even coming up, on any platform?

  3. I run Chrome unstable on Debian Squeeze with an Nvidia GT210 and the latest Nvidia proprietary drivers. WebGL works as it should and is fast and smooth. It took me a while to get Google Docs in Chrome to use the correct page size (for me A4) for printing, I had to get into Cups settings and regional Gnome settings. I use 32bit Debian and now have hardware accelerated flash using the latest beta and turning off Chrome's built in flash. This only works with Nvidia drivers for the moment. On 64bit you just download the latest 64bit flash beta from Adobe and manually copy it to /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins and then Chrome finds it and it works as it should, but with hardware acceleration (32bit only).

    Chrome works for me and I have not used any other browser for some time.

  4. Considering that the version of Chrome (Chromium) for Linux is still marked as beta, I think I'll wait for a release before worrying about video drivers.

    Another issue is the fact that RHEL is a requirement for the lab and the applications it supports. I don't intend to switch to Debian since RHEL (and to a lesser extent, Fedora) are boringly stable for everything that's truly important. And I like it that way.

  5. You might want to compare flash support on windows/32 to flash support on linux/32, not on linux/64, which is known to be problematic for corner cases of desktop support, though much preferred for server use - you know, apples to apples. Flash in chrome works perfectly on 32 bit linux.


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