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Shift leaves only three major web rendering engines on the market

And then there were three.  

That's the take home message from Opera Software ASA's (OSE:OPERA) somewhat surprising announcement that it is going to transition to the WebKit platform, taking its 300 million plus users with it.

I. Opera Joins Up

Opera boasts tens of millions of desktop users, but is a niche player in the desktop browser market compared to the likes of Google Inc. (GOOG), Apple, Inc. (AAPL), The Mozilla Foundation, and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT).  However, Opera has relatively strong market shares in both the third party mobile browser (smartphones/tablets) and [gaming] console markets.

Opera long used a rendering engine (also known as a "layout engine") named Presto.  Opera's work with Presto was important to the internet, as the Norwegian company often pushed web standards that other plays like Microsoft or Mozilla were slower to adopt.

Mozilla uses an open source rendering engine named Gecko, and Microsoft uses a proprietary engine named Trident.  But between Safari (Apple) and Chrome (Google), WebKit is estimated by market research firm StatCounter to be the world's most used layout engine with more than a 40 percent market share.

WebKit is published under a mixture of GNU LGPLv2.1 and BSD v2.0 licenses and thus is consider relatively "open source".

II. First WebKit Product on the Way

At Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona, Spain, Opera plans to show off the first fruits of its new WebKit development path, unveiling an Android browser based on WebKit.

Opera Mmini
Opera will release new mobile and desktop browsers based on WebKit.

Opera's chief technology officer Håkon Wium Lie says the shift to WebKit should free up development resources for Opera.  That makes sense -- Opera is a small company and trying to develop the world's fastest rendering engine and developing the best browser user interface is a potentially infeasible goal.

Comments Mr. Lie, "The shift to WebKit means more of our resources can be dedicated to developing new features and the user-friendly solutions that can be expected from a company that invented so many of the features that are today being used by everyone in the browser industry."

Tabs were first introduced to the browser market by Opera, and Opera was the first major player to make use of heavy server-side webpage compression for reduced data traffic.

III. Users Are Mostly Opposed to Switch

"Haavard", an Opera employee writes a blog on the shift.  He says at first he was "skeptical" that the move would be beneficial, but has since warmed to the idea.  He writes:

Yes, monoculture is bad, but Opera was never really in a position to prevent it in the first place. Even with Opera as the dominant mobile browser and more than 300 million active Opera users in total across all platforms, web developers still designed just for WebKit.

?If switching to WebKit allows us to accelerate our growth and become an important contributor to the project (we will contribute back to WebKit, and have already submitted our first patch (bug)), we may finally have a direct impact on the way web sites are coded. We want sites to be coded for open standards rather than specific browsers.

An official poll showed that Opera users aren't so sure.  45 percent said it was a bad idea; 31 percent were "not sure"; and only 23 percent were convinced it was a "good idea".

Sources: Opera [1], [2], [3]



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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

WebKit...
By StealthX32 on 2/13/2013 3:32:37 PM , Rating: -1
So what happens when Apple stops developing WebKit?




RE: WebKit...
By extide on 2/13/2013 3:37:49 PM , Rating: 3
Nothing. There are plenty of other people who contribute to it.


RE: WebKit...
By LRonaldHubbs on 2/13/2013 3:38:40 PM , Rating: 2
KDE, Nokia, Google, Bitstream, RIM, Igalia, and others will continue...


RE: WebKit...
By Flunk on 2/13/2013 3:47:00 PM , Rating: 2
Seeing as WebKit started off as a fork of the KHTML rendering engine for the Open-Source KDE project I can't see a problem. Google certainly has enough money to fund the project by themselves.

Seriously, why do so many people think that Apple is essential for everything these days. The real reason WebKit exists in it's current form is a whole host of companies decided that it would be cheaper to work on one open-source project than build their own web browsers. They were definitely right too.


RE: WebKit...
By Tony Swash on 2/13/2013 5:32:15 PM , Rating: 1
This article gives a very detailed breakdown of which company contributes what to webkit. Lots of data.

http://blog.bitergia.com/2013/02/06/report-on-the-...

To quote from the article

quote:
Some interesting results are the share of contributions by the two main companies behind the project (Apple and Google), and how it has evolved from a project clearly driven by Apple, before 2009, to the current situation, with Google leading the top contributors table, and both Apple and Google being almost equal in contribution share over the whole history of the project. During the last years, it is also noteworthy how the diversity of the project is increasing, with new players starting to show a significant activity.


It looks to me like webkit is in a very healthy situation. Both the major contributors, Google and Apple, want a healthy, open, standards based internet for different reasons. The end result is very good for everyone except possibly Microsoft, I wonder why they bother developing their own browser engine now that they have clearly lost the battle to control the web standards, it seems a bit pointless.


RE: WebKit...
By spaced_ on 2/13/2013 10:28:31 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed. Open source = good for everyone. Except of course the greedy.

Microsoft should open source Trident. Or just dump it.


RE: WebKit...
By InternetGeek on 2/13/2013 5:29:29 PM , Rating: 2
While Apple started the Webkit project and eventually open sourced it, it's just another member of the community behind Webkit. Nothing much would change if suddenly Apple dissapeared into another dimension.


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