Web browser engine swaps abound, so do enterprise complications

With Google eyeing a Webkit split and Mozilla experimenting on a new browser engine, it may become tough for businesses to keep up with the code changes.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Google is forking the Webkit browser technologies by creating Blink. The Webkit separation from Apple is now complete. Meanwhile, Mozilla and Samsung are also collaborating on a new browser engine.


So long, standard browser underpinnings. Hello, potential developer headaches. For businesses, it's possible that it will be difficult to keep up with the various code changes among the major browsers. When most of the browser players were based on Webkit, developing once for multiple outlets wasn't a complete pipe dream.

In the name of innovation, that "develop once, run everywhere" dream just got trickier. Google software engineer Adam Barth said the following about Blink:

Chromium uses a different multi-process architecture than other WebKit-based browsers, and supporting multiple architectures over the years has led to increasing complexity for both the WebKit and Chromium projects. This has slowed down the collective pace of innovation — so today, we are introducing Blink, a new open source rendering engine based on WebKit.

This was not an easy decision. We know that the introduction of a new rendering engine can have significant implications for the Web. Nevertheless, we believe that having multiple rendering engines — similar to having multiple browsers — will spur innovation and over time improve the health of the entire open web ecosystem.

On Wednesday, Mozilla noted the following about its next-gen browser engine in partnership with Samsung:

Servo is an attempt to rebuild the Web browser from the ground up on modern hardware, rethinking old assumptions along the way. This means addressing the causes of security vulnerabilities while designing a platform that can fully utilize the performance of tomorrow’s massively parallel hardware to enable new and richer experiences on the Web. To those ends, Servo is written in Rust, a new, safe systems language developed by Mozilla along with a growing community of enthusiasts.

The target here is the post-PC era. ARM and mobile are in. PC thinking is out. Webkit got too bloated. CNET's Stephen Shankland has a good analysis of the ins and outs of Google's Blink decision and Prng has a comical BS detector on the Blink FAQ.

More: Blink! Google forks WebKit | The real reason why Google forked WebKit

Initially, developers and businesses won't notice much difference between Webkit and other engines. Over time, there will be many changes. Those changes mean that developing Web applications for multiple browsers is going to get tricky. Some of those Web applications are going to be mission critical.

The fallout may go something like this:

  1. Enterprises may decide to simply stick with Internet Explorer as the default browser choice. The problem is that enterprise applications are having a tough time keeping up. Without F12 and IE 9 mode, many of my internal corporate apps won't work on the latest browser code from Microsoft.
  2. Many companies also support Mozilla's Firefox, which could ultimately see fallout from its own browser engine quest as well as the Webkit/Blink split.
  3. Toss in Google's Chrome, also supported in businesses, and you could have three corporate browsers that disagree on rendering.
  4. Further complicating matters will be the bring your own device and application movement. Companies have to support the top three browsers.

Previously, Web browser battles didn't matter much to companies. But along came software as a service and dependence on the cloud. Enterprises need browsers as well as compatibility.

Google could be right: Blink's Webkit split is good for innovation. But rest assured, headaches will certainly follow.

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