Opera joins Chrome & Safari in using Webkit for Web-browsing

Opera joins Chrome & Safari in using Webkit for Web-browsing

Summary: In a surprise move, the Opera Web browser is moving from using its Presto Web rendering engine to using the popular open-source Webkit engine.

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Opera, a Web browser with a small, but loyal, core group of 300-million users, surprised everyone when they moved from its Presto Web rendering engine to the popular open-source Webkit engine. Webkit is best known for being Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari Web engine.

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In a radical move, Opera is replacing its Web rendering heart, Presto, with Webkit.

Web engines are what take Web page content such as HTML files, and formatting instructions, for example Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and transform these into the page you see on your screen. They are a Web browser's heart. For Opera, this is no less than a heart transplant.

Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie explained that, "It makes more sense to have our experts working with the open-source communities to further improve WebKit and Chromium, rather than developing our own rendering engine further. Opera will contribute to the WebKit and Chromium projects, and we have already submitted our first set of patches: to improve multi-column layout." Lie added, "The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better. It supports the standards we care about, and it has the performance we need."

To Opera's outside developers, Bruce Lawson, a lead Opera developer, said, "When we first began, back in 1995, we had to roll our own rendering engine in order to compete against the Netscape and Internet Explorer to drive Web standards, and thus the Web forward. When we started the spec that is now called HTML5,' our goal was a specification that would greatly enhance interoperability across the Web."

Lawson continued, "The WebKit project now has the kind of standards support that we could only dream of when our work began. Instead of tying up resources duplicating what's already implemented in WebKit, we can focus on innovation to make a better browser."

On a personal note, Lawson explained, "Opera’s Presto engine was a means to an end; a means for a small, European browser company to challenge the dominance of companies who, at that time, hoped to 'win' the web through embracing, extending and extinguishing web standards. Presto showed that it was possible to make a better browser while supporting standards. Other vendors have followed this path; the world has changed."

Another reason, unspoken by Opera's team, is that Opera's performance hasn't kept up with the other browsers. While Opera has been getting faster, it's been unable to keep up with IE, Firefox and Chrome.

Many Opera extension developers are not welcoming this change. John Resig, the Dean of Computer Science at Khan Academy, summarized these arguments as: A browser switching to WebKit will result in stagnation. This is helping to make WebKit a de facto standard, bugs-and-all. This will affect Opera’s ability to influence standards. And Opera switching to WebKit is a slippery slope. Resig dismissed these arguments as being largely irrelevant.

In particular, Resig noted that "WebKit has completely and unequivocally won mobile at this point. They are nearly the only rendering engine used on the vast majority of mobile browsers, including the soon-to-switch Opera Mini/Mobile browsers too. There is no reason to worry about a slippery slope, the slope has already been slid down. In order for any other browser to remain relevant in the world of mobile (which, you must admit, is quickly becoming the only world we live in) they must keep feature parity with WebKit."

Still for programmers, as Opera freely admits, there are some concerns. While Web developers won't have any worries at all—Webkit already being so popular--Opera is promising its Opera extension programmers that its team is "working on a conversion tool that will take existing OEX extensions and convert them into a format that can be used by Chromium-based Opera for computers. In addition, we'll provide conversion tutorials and documentation, and we'll provide assistance through our developer forums as well. In short, we stay totally committed to our enthusiastic community of extension developers and users, and we'll do our best to make the transition as smooth as possible."

End-users also won't need to worry about basic Web functionality. As the new Webkit-based versions of Opera start shipping, however, they will need to update their Opera extensions.

That said, users are not happy with this change. While some users have said such thing as "Great decision from the Opera team. Looking forward to seeing the first webkit-powered Opera browser!" on the Opera Web page. More often, people criticized the move with comments such as, "Opera stops competing and starts supporting the insane WebKit monoculture that is the cause of half of the compatibility problems we have" and "I love Opera because it ploughs its own furrow, and is not just another 'Clone' browser." And, perhaps the most telling comment: "Why would I continue using Opera, if it looks like any other browser and now also acts like any other browser?"

That's a good question and one that Opera, if it wants to hold on to its 300-million users, must answer.

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Topics: Browser, Networking, Open Source

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29 comments
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  • Opera lost and this a bad day for many users.

    I really hope history doesn't repeat and what happened with web standards and IE. Apple/Google are nothing but an axis of an evil web and they controlling web kit standards is not good for the future of the web. Lot of sites are prioritizing their design for web kit and that is not a good sign... lessons learnt should not be forgotten.
    Owlll1net
    • It is terrible

      Hopefully Opera will open source Presto.
      http://my.opera.com/community/forums/topic.dml?id=1622812&
      Stephan Sevenyoln
    • stop trolling...

      that means you, microsoft prostitute.
      Naryan
  • Madam Castafiore?

    Why is Castafiore portraying opera browser?
    Stephan Sevenyoln
  • That's kinda like saying the USA has a small but loyal population . . .

    "Opera, a Web browser with a small, but loyal, core group of 300-million users"

    That's kinda like saying the USA has a small but loyal population ;). 300 million *is* about the population of the USA, no?

    That's actually quite a bit in my book. I'm actually kinda surprised it's that big.
    CobraA1
    • yeah, what is the killer opera feature?

      Why use opera over the others? I use chrome. Why should I consider opera?
      otaddy
      • There are a few

        It is unfortunate because Opera was the browser that actually pioneered features like the Speed Dial. Then chrome came along with their version. I always liked speed dial because it was user configurable. The version chrome has was dependent on the sites you visited and how frequently. Oh and if a picture appeared on the chrome version that you didn't particularly want there, you could delete it but then you lost the "bookmark".

        It also has one of the best methods for handling simultaneous downloads from various sources. I remember downloading content from a series of links on a web page and Opera's url links view really streamlined the process.

        The only reason I haven't gone back is that Presto hasn't been keeping up with the other browsers with webkit, trident or gecko. But in terms of functionality, the features that they did build in to Opera were fantastic. Hopefully this move to webkit will bring it up to parity.
        Reavus
      • I use it for a long time

        I admit recently it can make less sense, but for me it's still the best.
        Opera used to be way ahead of mainstream browsers, like page zoom, small screen rendering, tab browsing, context dictionary and search, option for not downloading images with a click per tab, an integrated ad block that works well in 80% of the cases without hassle, .... and there are things that I just prefer like having a zoom setting that is individual for tab and not site, ... Also even if chrome is the faster now, there are still aspects where opera just feels snappier than others, per ex. closing a tab could take a considerable fraction of a second with ie while with opera was just immediately.
        I think these are good news, I do believe they are very good software developers that will bring valid contribution to the WebKit, also they have a big chance to make opera a lot better and at a faster pace.
        I understand relying so much on WebKit has its issues, but this is open source, the world survived years of Microsoft closed source absolutely dominance and we are still here.
        AleMartin
  • To put this change in terms that Steven might understand...

    it is about the same as Canonical announcing that the next version of Ubuntu
    would NOT be based on the Linux kernel, and instead would be built upon
    a NT Windows kernel, and all applications, extensions, desktops, window managers,
    etc. would have to be rewritten to operate with the new Ubuntu. Canonical would
    of course try to convince themselves, developers and users that this is for the best
    and would result in a much more "compatible" Ubuntu.
    wizard57m-cnet
    • Love it!

      A ZDNet moderator is yanking SJVN's chain. :)

      Steven likes it because a proprietary web browser is biting the dust. But, the Opera shell will be proprietary as are the Safari and Chrome shells.

      P.S. Check out the Debian GNU/kFreeBSD project. It does what you say, except that the FreeBSD [open-source] kernel replaces the Linux kernel. And Steven has yet to write about this project.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Well, hope I didn't pull his chain too hard, hehe!

        The aggravating thing is that this move actually reduces user options...
        there are already countless numbers of Webkit browsers around, quite
        a number of Gecko based ones too. Opera has always been quite handy
        because it was different, and Opera has historically been the one to
        introduce new features (Opera link, Unite, customizations galore, and
        even in a way tabbed browsing, although there was an old browser
        way back in like 1993 that had some tab features).
        Funny you mention the Debian/FreeBSD project...I almost used that as an
        example of Ubuntu changing the kernel as opposed to going WinNT.
        Oh well...think I'll go boot my netbook now and play around with the
        new Slax 7...yes, I made an Opera module for myself for Slax!
        wizard57m-cnet
        • Correct me if I'm wrong...

          Haven't most (if not all) of the alternative Gecko browsers died since Mozilla stopped providing an embedded version of Gecko? Epiphany switched to WebKit, Camino is in the process of switching, K-Meleon is on hold indefinitely... It really is just Firefox, IE, and a multitude of WebKit browsers.
          foolishgrunt
          • I don't know how many have been updated lately,

            but a few Gecko based browsers/suties that come to mind are IceWeasal,
            Sea Monkey and Flock...can't remember for sure, but seems I recall that
            the IE used in Wine at one time was Gecko based?
            wizard57m-cnet
          • SPELLING Wiz!!

            sheesh..."suties", gosh, where'd that come from! Should be "suites"
            wizard57m-cnet
          • Eh

            Flock now uses Chromium as its base (Webkit). Iceweasel (and Icecat with it) is literally just a rebranding of Firefox, so I don't consider it a separate browser. IE for Wine does use Gecko, but it's stuck on version 1.9 - pretty ancient by today's standards. But I guess I do have to count it if I want to be fair... :)
            foolishgrunt
    • Almost right

      Its more like Microsoft saying that windows phone 9 will no longer be based on NT kernel, but instead linux.... it doesn't sound bad at all :-)
      AleMartin
      • Not really...

        Microsoft is HUGE...Opera is small. Ubuntu is small, but trying for part of Windows
        marketshare. It would almost be impossible for MS to change the kernel of Windows...
        Ubuntu, being smaller could change without too many problems, outside the loyal
        Ubuntu users that are accustomed to the current modality. Same is true for Opera...
        doesn't really affect a large number of users, but those accustomed to Presto and
        its quirks may or may not be appreciative of having just another Webkit browser.
        wizard57m-cnet
  • The noteworthy change is the move to Chromium, not WebKit

    Much bigger than the rendering engine switch is the change to Chromium. That's not just a heart transplant, it's a body transplant with a new skin wrapped around it to make it look a bit like the old one.
    ringerc-d5785
    • Again, correct me if I'm wrong...

      I haven't heard anybody from Opera confirm that they'll be basing the entire browser off of Chromium, but mostly just the rendering engine. I'm sure some more Chromium-specific code will wind up in there (considering that they're contributing to it now), but I don't think this will be Chromium-based in the same way that Chrome is Chromium-based.
      foolishgrunt
  • Good

    I love open source and I welcome this change. I've never actually used Opera, but now I might give it a try. The web is about innovation and adaptation and I don't see anything wrong with what Opera is doing. I understand their point of view. It's like the different Linux distribution working on the same kernel to improve it instead of each distribution working on different kernels. One thing I wonder about is why they didn't consider Gecko. Do they consider Webkit as being superior?
    Sebastian Tristan