Google to replace GTK+ with its own Aura in Chrome

Google’s Chromium team is working on an alternative of Gtk+ for the browser. Elliot Glaysher, a Google developer explains, “We aim to launch the Aura graphics stack on Linux in M35. Aura is a cross-platform graphics system, and the Aura frontend will replace the current GTK+ frontend.”

The new graphic stack, Elliot says will also “address long standing issues with GPU memory consumption and GPU rendering performance. Using our own graphics stack enables us to have one OpenGL context per window, instead of one OpenGL context per tab, which should significantly reduce GPU resource consumption.”

The announcement has triggered some reaction from the Free Software community. Jan Wildeboer compared it to Canonical’s Unity, “Google pulling a Unity? Not even mentioning surprised face. Let’s introduce yet another stack. Linux wants to be the REAL UNIX. “Don’t share, don’t care” is the new mantra? Please show me I’m wrong.”

Alberto Ruiz disagreed, “To be honest this is not a Unity situation at all, they depend on Gtk+ 2 at the moment which is not maintained anymore. In the face of porting to something else and the myriad of platforms they support it makes a lot of sense to create a domain specific toolkit that targets lower levels of the stack on each platform.”

Thomas Pfeiffer of KDE community was of opinion that Google could have worked with the GTK community to make things better, “I tend to agree with Jan here: I don’t think it makes much sense to write your own GUI toolkit just for a browser. They could have contributed to GTK 3 or – probably more sensible for cross-platform development – switched to Qt and contributed to it in case it didn’t meet their needs in some aspects.”

Google pulling Unity?

It is same situation as of Canonical? Both companies come from different direction, Canonical started off as an Open Source company with 100% code from the community, whereas Google never was an Open Source company but started to go Open Source. So while Canonical is making a lot of code developed by Canonical, Google is opening up their code.

While Unity as Canonical’s effort to ‘differentiate’ itself from rest of the GNU/Linux world and get better control over their desktop environment (as they focus on Mobile) instead of depending on Gnome Project which, on the basis of meritocracy, is dominated by Red Hat (a company Canonical considers competitor), Google’s case it totally different. It’s neither about control of the graphic stack not conflict with the Gnome community, it’s about getting the solutions they need. Moving to Qt might have been a desired solution as more and more projects are moving to Qt and it’s kind of becoming a standard in many industries like automotive.

Try it out

Google developers need testers to improve the software. Elliot says, “The use of Aura on desktop Linux is new and not well tested. We are replacing the entire frontend with a new one.”

If you use Chromium on GNU/Linux and would like to improve the stack, then you can grab the dev channel for your distro and start using it.

Ubuntu users can run following command to get unstable build

sudo apt-get install google-chrome-unstable

openSUSE users can install unstable from Yast Software Manager.


You can verify that you are using an aura build by the presence of an ‘a’ badge on the hotdog menu.

If you get stuck or face issues you can downgrade to google-chrome-stable, since both channels have separate profiles on GNU/Linux you will go back to work with stable channel.

About Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

127 thoughts on “Google to replace GTK+ with its own Aura in Chrome

  1. “So while Canonical is making a lot of code developed by Canonical, Google is opening up their code.” – that sounds wrong. You are making it sound as if Canonical is developing closed source. All of the new development in Ubuntu is still opensource. Plus Gnome devs are dropping features from applications left, right and center. Look at Nautilus. How they have dropped features.. And for the record, Google does want to control every bit of what ever it does. That’s why it has Google Chrome and not just Chromium browser and also that’s why new versions of Android are increasingly getting closed source Google Apps .

    1. You are making it sound as if Canonical is developing closed source.
      – No. I am not saying that what I am saying is that while Google is coming from opposite direction (becoming an open source company with pushing more and more community developed code – though they have all the resources in the world), Canonical is a lot of code exclusive to Canonical (the CLA) which is discouraging community engagement…and entire Free Software community is vocal about it. THAT doesn’t mean they are going closed source. Please don’t confuse two totally different issues…they can’t make any code non-free thanks to GNU GPLv3 :-)

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