Now DuckDuckGo is building its own desktop browser

DuckDuckGo takes aim at Google Chrome, but insists it isn't going to fork Google's Chromium project upon which Chrome, Edge and others are built.

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Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo has offered a first look at its forthcoming desktop "browsing app" that promises simple default privacy settings. 

DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg details its desktop browser in a blogpost recapping its milestones for 2021, including 150 million downloads of its all-in-one privacy apps for iOS and Android, and Chromium extensions. 

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Weinberg attempts to distinguish the DuckDuckGo desktop browser from the likes of Chromium-based Brave and Mozilla Firefox by arguing it is not a "privacy browser". Instead, it's just a browser that offers "robust privacy protection" by default and works across search, browsing, email and more. 

"It's an everyday browsing app that respects your privacy because there's never a bad time to stop companies from spying on your search and browsing history," writes Weinberg. 

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Weinberg offers a few clues about the internals underpinning the DuckDuckGo desktop browser or "app" as he calls it, but also leaves out a lot of details. 

He says it won't be based on Chromium, the open-source project underpinning Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Brave, Vivaldi, and about 30 other browsers. 

"Instead of forking Chromium or anything else, we're building our desktop app around the OS-provided rendering engines (like on mobile), allowing us to strip away a lot of the unnecessary cruft and clutter that's accumulated over the years in major browsers," explains Weinberg. 

It's not clear what desktop OS-provided rendering engines he's referring to but it's not a trivial task to build a desktop browser without Chromium's Blink rendering engine. Just ask Microsoft, which launched its Chromium-based Edge browser last year. Apple meanwhile uses WebKit for Safari on desktop and requires all non-Safari browsers on iOS, including Chrome, to use WebKit for iOS. 

ZDNet has asked DuckDuckGo for a clarification, but DuckDuckGo's communications manager Allison Johnson has provided some details to The Verge about the rendering engines.

"macOS and Windows both now offer website rendering APIs (WebView/WebView2) that any application can use to render a website. That's what we've used to build our app on desktop," said Johnson.

Microsoft's implementation of WebView2 in Windows allows developers to embed web technologies such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript in native Windows apps. WebView2 on Windows uses Microsoft Edge as the rendering engine to display websites in those apps. 

"We're building the desktop app from the ground up around the OS-provided rendering APIs. This means that anything beyond website rendering (e.g., tabs & bookmark management, navigation controls, passwords etc.) we have to build ourselves," said Johnson. 

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So, the DuckDuckGo browser rendering will rely on Edge/Chromium for Windows, and Safari/Webkit on macOS, The Verge notes. 

Johnson highlighted that approach isn't forking Chromium. A clear example of forking a project is Google's creation of Blink, where it used the open-source code behind the WebKit rendering engine (that Google and Apple had previously maintained), and then built its own web-rendering engine for Chromium.  

However DuckDuckGo releases its new desktop browser, Weinberg assures that "compared to Chrome, the DuckDuckGo app for desktop is cleaner, way more private, and early tests have found it significantly faster too!"

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