Why IE 8 won't use the WebKit rendering engine

Why IE 8 won't use the WebKit rendering engine

Summary: Despite the fact that many developers would welcome more rendering-engine compatibility, anyone expecting Microsoft to switch out its "Trident" engine and replace it with WebKit in Internet Explorer (IE) -- especially in IE 8 -- is misguided.

TOPICS: Browser, Microsoft

Despite the fact that many developers would welcome more rendering-engine compatibility, anyone expecting Microsoft to switch out its "Trident" engine and replace it with WebKit in Internet Explorer (IE) -- especially in IE 8 -- is misguided.

Comments this week by CEO Steve Ballmer set off speculation about Microsoft's WebKit plans. Responding to a question during an appearance for the Australian development community, Ballmer said Microsoft could "from time to time take a look at" WebKit, the open-source rendering engine at the heart of the Apple Safari and Google Chrome browsers.

I can see a number of reasons Microsoft won't be adopting WebKit any time soon -- and not simply because introducing an open-source engine into a closed-source browser would set off many Softies' alarm bells.

Just to be clear: I am not defending Microsoft's decision to stick with Trident; I'm explaining what I believe to be the company's philosophy around that decision. Here's why I don't see Microsoft switching allegiances to WebKit -- at least not in the near term:

1. IE 8 is almost done, folks. Beta 2, which Microsoft released in August,  is expected to be the final public beta. The final IE 8 is due before the end of the year -- which I've interpreted and heard  from sources meant "end of calendar 2008," but I hear Microsoft might be claiming to be "end of fiscal 2009," which would mean in the first half of 2009. In either case, Microsoft is not going to rip out Trident and replace it with WebKit at this late date.

2. Microsoft is pushing test cases, not rendering engines, as its best way to help ease developers' compatibility headaches. Microsoft is releasing a growing set of test cases specific to IE as its preferred strategy for helping developers make sure their pages and apps will work with Microsoft's browser.

3. Microsoft is not "consider(ing) adopting WebKit for Internet Explorer." As my ZDNet blogging colleague Larry Dignan explained, all Ballmer actually said this week was WebKit was interesting and worth taking a look at. Microsoft looks at lots of competitive technologies on a regular basis. "Looking at" doesn't equate to "adopt."

I don't know whether changing the IE 8 rendering engine from Trident to WebKit would wreak havoc on existing Web sites/apps that have been designed to work with current versions of IE. (Anyone out there have any thoughts on this?)

Perhaps there's a way Microsoft could do this that wouldn't be overly disruptive to the majority of users. One commentator, responding to a January 21 post on "Compatibility and IE 8" on the Microsoft IE 8 blog suggested Microsoft introduce WebKit as a plug-in:

"Why not make the rendering engine a plugin, develop the engine as open-source but let the rest of the browser closed-source. Each browser will have its own proprietary interface, unique set of features, but at least the rendering engine will be essentially the same."

Would it be feasible for Microsoft make WebKit a plug-in to IE? Would the company consider doing so with IE 9 (which, if Microsoft sticks to its current schedule, would be released in 2011 or so)?  Developers: What do you think Microsoft can, should and will do, regarding WebKit and IE?

Topics: Browser, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • No One Really Cares Anymore

    I haven't seen anyone use IE in so long I forgot it existed until you mentioned it.
    • What planet do you live on?


      more then 7 out of 10 people use IE.
      Is it the 90%+ it used to be? No.
      But a large majority still do.
      • You have to stop using Net Applications.

        It is an IIS driven opt in unknown methodology counting system. There is no reason to believe it represents reality except as stated, in a custom network of IIS driven click driven network. It has been thoroughly questioned in terms of what it measures and as many have pointed out, when was the last time 30% of FF users followed an ad link they don't ever see with NoScript and/or Adblock enabled.

        Not only that, it is highly slanted to North America only.

        I defy you to prove that W3Schools is less accurate that Net Applications (facts, not hand waving) with it's 44% FF marketshare.

        Don't like that source, why is XiTi placing FF at a solid 35% with some countries flirting with 50% penetration.

        Seriously, and I am wide open to any facts you or any others might have, why is Net Applications regarded as the gold standard?

        • Until Net Applications shows an OSS majority it's not credible to zealots

          Just admit it, the only report credible to folks like you is the ones showing OSS taking over the world. Sorry, but these sites are nothing more than propaganda outlets for OSS zealots.
      • Those 7 out of 10 are the real web trend setters? NOT!!!- NT

      • Sorry, most of those 7 are just zombies, so your point is moot.

    • too bad

      run your brain a little before you talk.
    • Yeah, right...

      I guess around 70% of te browser market is irrelevant...
      Tony Barbarella
      • It's closer to 50-60%.

        Still a big dog, but nowhere near the domination it enjoyed a couple of years ago. See my reply to mdmuth above, and tell me one reason to believe Net Applications.

        • In your Linux colored world it is..

          Tell us one reason to believe tha sites you cited.
          • What's this have to do with Linux? All the major browsers run on Windows.

    • I care

      I would love to use Firefox or Chrome all the time, but I don't because most of my web visitors don't.

      I get a lot of traffic, and the users are largely non-technical, so it's representative of "average" users.

      Overall more than 80% of the site visitors use IE. As I write this, 83% of the users visiting this moment are using IE6, 7, or 8. (Sadly, 36% are still using IE6.)

      It is very hard just to convince non-techies to "take the chance" of installing Firefox. That's why so many people are still stuck on IE6. There are lots of people afraid to touch any settings or software for fear of messing up their computers.

      I could always make myself happy by using Firefox all the time, but if you want to understand what your users are going through every day, you need to use what they use.
    • True. But just for the record, Google already did it. So ya, "feasible".

      It's already done.
  • RE: Why IE 8 won't use the WebKit rendering engine

    Microsoft has too much time and money invested in IE/Trident for them to just scrap it. Besides, the IE rendering engine works fine just the way it is.
    Loverock Davidson
    • it works just fine

      except for that "conforming to standards" bit, but who cares about that, eh?

      It's called "embrace and extend."
      • Microsoft cares about it.

        Microsoft's IE8 DOES conform to standards, and ironically, that's why they had to include compatability mode, because to do what everyone wanted, it would have to break sites that worked fine in IE6 and IE7. Maybe next time you could do a little research before posting?
        • Almost 5 years later

          And you're still wrong. Note even IE10 conforms to standards like the other browsers do. http://html5test.com/results/desktop.html
    • Why are they even talking about it? (NT)

  • WebKit on Windows Mobile

    WebKit doesn't make much sense on the desktop, but I think it makes a ton of sense on Windows Mobile.

    Windows Mobile has some serious catching up to do with iPhone, and WebKit would get it much of the way there, especially since all the sites that have tailored themselves for iPhone would translate directly onto Windows Mobile.
    • Well... yes and no

      Yes, because WebKit sites for iPhone that aren't multi-touch
      and gryo aware would work nearly flawlessly, but no once
      you add in iPhone/iTouch specific reatures that aren't
      currently on other devices.