Opera Switches to the Webkit Rendering Engine

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RIP Presto. Opera has announced they are dropping their own HTML rendering engine and switching to Webkit — the one used in Chrome and Safari.

The company had already declared similar intentions for Opera Ice; a new mobile browser with a minimal interface. However, today’s announcement affects all mobile and desktop editions of the browser. There will be a gradual transition as Presto is phased out.

Business Logic

The Opera project started in 1994 and required its own HTML parser — there were few other options. In the early part of the century it became the best engine as Microsoft’s Trident stagnated and Netscape died.

The situation has evolved in recent years and, from a purely commercial perspective, switching to Webkit makes sense. Opera may have 300 million users, but their market share has been dropping and stands at slightly over 1% according to the latest StatCounter statistics. While I doubt Presto is at fault, adopting another rendering engine frees resources and allows the company to concentrate on the browser interface, features and marketing. Webkit is open source, so Opera can still influence its development and direction of web standards.

Of course, Opera could have selected Gecko, Trident or any other project, but Webkit is the leading engine on mobile devices and the only option on iOS (Apple do not permit third-party apps which can execute code such as JavaScript).

Fewer Development Headaches?

Many developers will applaud Opera’s decision. Testing should become easier and, from today, there’s little point using -o- prefixes in your CSS and JavaScript. Ironically, Opera had already adopted several -webkit prefixed properties to enforce compatibility for developers who refuse to acknowledge other browsers.

A Small Step Closer to the Monoculture?

It’s a shame to see Presto die. Perhaps I’m being over-sentimental, but it’s a powerful engine and Opera has been responsible for several innovative HTML5 features. It may have struggled to keep pace recently, but Presto differentiated Opera from the competition. I hope Opera doesn’t become just another Webkit clone.

Admittedly, this news would have been considerably more worrying had Microsoft or Mozilla adopted Webkit. We still have three major HTML5 engines but the browser world has lost a little of its color today.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

browserHTML5 Dev Centeroperawebkit
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