Browser maker Opera is joining the ranks of Google and Apple and embracing the WebKit rendering engine.
The company made the announcement in conjunction with news that Opera now reaches 300 million monthly users across its various browser products.
Web browsers rely on rendering engines to translate code into the visual text and display you see on your desktop, tablet or phone. Mozilla uses the Gecko rendering engine for Firefox, Microsoft uses Trident for Internet Explorer and Google and Apple use WebKit for Chrome and Safari. Historically, Opera has relied on its own Presto rendering engine for its browsers.
That's all going to change.
The company says it will move to WebKit slowly, first with its Opera Mobile browser and then, over time to its other products, including Opera for the desktop.
Opera will be showing off its first WebKit-based efforts at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month with a preview of its next Android web browser.
Why Change?In a blog entry that expanded on the rationale behind the rendering engine change, "Haavard" from Opera expressed his feelings this way:
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.The reality is that WebKit is already the de facto rendering engine for mobile, thanks to its support by Apple (who leads the WebKit project) and Google. BlackBerry also uses WebKit for its browsers both for BlackBerry 10 and the older BlackBerry OS.
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.
At the very least, there will be more competition in the browser space, and competition is always good news.
I've written about the problems that can happen on other platforms — such as Windows Phone 8 — when mobile developers target WebKit and only WebKit.
When a website doesn't render correctly on a device, the user's first instinct isn't to blame the person that coded the website, it's to blame the person who made the web browser. To that end, Opera will now have an easier time encouraging users to adopt its platform and will have to do less work to ensure compatibility with other rendering engines.
Is This a Good Thing?While Opera's decision to move to WebKit makes sense from a business and user perspective, what does this say about the future of the web and web standards in general?
After all, we've seen what can happen when developers and designers become too complacent and focused on one platform at the risk of all others: The world gets stuck with IE 6.
I'm certainly not conflating the situation that was prolonged IE 6 penetration with WebKit's dominance in the browser space; but it is a good reminder that focusing too much on one platform can be risky.
We'll be discussing the larger issues surrounding this switch in a future post.
What do you think of Opera's decision to switch to WebKit? Let us know in the comments.