21 Feb 2013, 21:27

Browser : Opera to drop Presto in favor of Webkit

If you follow the web news, you cannot have missed this one : Opera dropped its rendering engine named "Presto" in favor Webkit.

As a reminder :

  • Opera was quite an innovative browser but never met the success they merited
  • Opera is deeply involved in standards implementation (W3C, etc) and will continue.
  • However, Presto, their rendering engine is closed/proprietary
  • Webkit is an open source rendering engine which is used at least in Safari and Chrome (but first of all in KHTML/Konqueror, the browser from the KDE desktop environment - sorry for Apple fanboys, Webkit is not born with Safari). More precisely, Opera will used the Chromium flavor of webkit (Chromium is the open sourced version of Chrome, ie without any proprietary nor licensed plugin)
  • Microsoft's rendering engine is called Trident
  • Mozilla Firefox's rendering engine is called Gecko

Back to the news, it leads to many comment on different topics, I will try to sum up here :

  • Good news, one browser less to test your site on : first, be honest : did you ever test your site on Opera ? So I would say this one is a non event for most of us and then, even if you tested your site on Opera, you will have to wait for the new Opera before giving up tests. As some people said : when you test your sites on IE, it's to get and fix IE bugs. when you test on Opera, you can validate your code against standards as Opera had the stricter implementation of W3C standards. So on this point, we could say that losing Opera is a bad news (however, Opera said that they chose Webkit as standards implementation in webkit is "good enough" for them regarding their criteria on standards).
  • Risk of a new web(kit) monoculture : "Optimised for webkit" could be the new "Optimised for IE6". To some extend, I would say it's already the case as webkit is used massively on mobile world (95% of mobile users are to use a webkit based browser). Fortunately, we can rely on Mozilla at least to promote the Open Web and avoid the "One Webkit reign". More over as there is at least 2 webkits (one on Safari side, one on Chrome side) and mainly as standards is the rule, it looks that "commitment to standards" will remain the rule, whatever the position of the different rendering engine in terms of market share. However, open web and standards are better promoted when there is diversity in rendering engine.
  • Will this swith increase/reduce the innovation on the web  or influence on standards ? J. Resig (JQuery's author) compares JQuery and Webkit ; even JQuery dominates the front-end side of Javascript, it leads to many innovation by providing a shared and common code base accross browsers. It could be the same for browsers and at the same time, he highlights the fact that webkit code base is not as shared between vendors as we may think. On the other side, D. Glazman (implied in CSS Working Group at W3C) mention a sad day and the webkit domination. For some others, the new end is not standard by themselves but standards is a mean for a new end : web as a platform.

Not easy to say what the future will be...

[Edit 1] : Opera's CTO said that Presto could be opensourced, once transition to webkit is achieved. Good news if they could bring some Presto features or standards implementation into Webkit ; their first patches to Webkit was also to fix a 5 yo bug by bringing in Wekbit the support of multi column layout in CSS3. If they go on this way, sounds really good for standards implementation and webkit and I guess Mozilla/Firefox will face the challenge too.

[Edit 2] : To understand the Webkit universe / econsystem : Webkit for developers ie how you will learn that there is no single webkit / all webkit based browsers are not using the same webkit. So as Chromium Team (in charge of the Chromium browser, the Open Sourced version of Chrome) announed they will develop their own rendering engine called Blink ; Opera will also be based on Blink. So Google may/will less contribute to the webkit codebase.

[Edit 3] : a more detailed review in French on the announcement confirming the split between Google teams and webkit ones and also the fact that Samsung & Mozilla to work on a new browser rendering engine for Firefox called Servo (R&D project so far even if Rust (a programming language) is initiated for years and on which Servo will be (partially ?) based, no confirmation of the switch to this new engine for Firefox so far but more for the ARM/Android version, ie for Firefox OS and Firefox Android Browser)