Opera Saddles up With Google, Apple by Moving to WebKit
Shift leaves only three major web rendering engines on the market
And then there were three.
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’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:
?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”.