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Google and Mozilla announce new web engines

Google and Mozilla announce new web engines

Future versions of Firefox will likely feature Mozilla's new Servo engine, developed with Samsung, while Chrome is switching to a WebKit fork dubbed Blink.

The WebKit browser engine, which underpins a surprising number of web browsers from a variety of different providers, looks set to get some serious competition on two fronts: Mozilla and Samsung's Servo and Google's Blink.

Forked from KHTML, the web rendering engine developed by the KDE project for its homebrew browser Konqueror, WebKit forms the heart of Google's Chrome browser, Apple's Safari browser, and Opera - giving it a 40 per cent share of the web browser market, ahead of Internet Explorer's Trident engine and Firefox's Gecko engine. Originally an internal Apple project to build on the KHTML engine, WebKit was fully open sourced under the BSD licence in 2005.

Since then, it has undergone quite a few changes - but not, apparently, enough to satisfy Google. According to a post made late yesterday on the official Chromium Blog by software engineer Adam Barth, Google is planning to create a rendering engine of its own dubbed 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,' Barth claimed in explanation of his team's decision. 'This has slowed down the collective pace of innovation - so today, we are introducing Blink, a new open source rendering engine based on WebKit.'

A fork of the WebKit project, Blink is to be released under a compatible open-source licence - meaning it would be possible for Apple, or any other team working on WebKit, to fold changes made by Google back into the main WebKit source - but will be tweaked specifically for Google's needs. In the future, it will become the rendering engine of both the desktop and mobile versions of Google's Chrome browser, and the engine that drives its ChromeOS web-based operating system.

Before that can happen, there's plenty of work to be done. 'The bulk of the initial work will focus on internal architectural improvements and a simplification of the codebase. For example, we anticipate that we’ll be able to remove seven build systems and delete more than 7,000 files—comprising more than 4.5 million lines - right off the bat,' claimed Barth. 'Over the long term a healthier codebase leads to more stability and fewer bugs.'

It's not just the WebKit world that's getting a shake-up today, either: at the same time as Google announced Blink, the Mozilla Foundation - the group behind open-source browser Firefox - announced Servo. Developed in partnership with Samsung, Servo is written in a new programming language dubbed Rust which, the group claims, is designed to help programmers better harness the inherent parallelism of modern multi-core processors while also introducing new security features that could help reduce successful attacks against web browsers - one of the most common methods of gaining unauthorised access to a computer today.

'In the coming year, we are racing to complete the first major revision of Rust – cleaning up, expanding and documenting the libraries, building out our tools to improve the user experience, and beefing up performance,' explained Brendan Eich, Mozilla's chief technical officer, of the partnership with Samsung. 'At the same time, we will be putting more resources into Servo, trying to prove that we can build a fast web browser with pervasive parallelism, and in a safe, fun language. We, along with our friends at Samsung, will be increasingly looking at opportunities on mobile platforms. Both of these efforts are still early stage projects and there's a lot to do yet, so now is a good time to get involved.'

Unlike Google, Mozilla isn't talking about replacing the Gecko rendering engine that powers its Firefox browser just yet - but that's clearly the end-goal. With better security and improved performance, especially on the multi-core processors that are becoming increasingly prevalent in the mobile market, future Firefox versions are likely to switch to Servo just as soon as the platform is feature-complete compared to Gecko.

For end-users, the news is all good: Chrome - and Chromium, its open-source equivalent - users can expect to see improvements in functionality and performance in the near future, while Firefox users might have to wait a little while longer but can still look forward to the promise of a faster and more secure browser. For web developers, the news is something of a mixed bag: a split in the WebKit base means, potentially, a whole other rendering engine to code for and to test for incompatibilities, while Servo will add yet another variable to the mix.

Details regarding Servo are available on the GitHub repository, while the Chromium webpage holds information on Blink.

7 Comments

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derviansoul 4th April 2013, 14:20 Quote
The most interesting news to me in this article the language rust:P. Never heard of it before.

i had a look in their website and it seems a nice extension to C.
fluxtatic 5th April 2013, 09:34 Quote
Opera is not yet a WebKit browser. On the desktop, they haven't announced a date or version when it will be WebKit. In mobile, they just released a version 14 beta (calling the change so huge they're skipping version 13 altogether) that is the first public WebKit release.

Additionally, Opera already announced they're along with Google for the ride, and will become a Blink browser.

C'mon, Gareth, you're asleep at the wheel!

That aside, I don't like this much at all - Google's all flowers and poetry about it now, but they're obviously not to be trusted. The way WebKit is licensed, there's nothing stopping them from closing it off later. Or deciding it isn't profitable and ditching it altogether.
Gareth Halfacree 5th April 2013, 10:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluxtatic
Opera is not yet a WebKit browser. On the desktop, they haven't announced a date or version when it will be WebKit. In mobile, they just released a version 14 beta (calling the change so huge they're skipping version 13 altogether) that is the first public WebKit release.
But they're becoming a WebKit browser; what they are now doesn't really matter, as they've officially stopped all work on their existing engine.
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluxtatic
Additionally, Opera already announced they're along with Google for the ride, and will become a Blink browser.
They hadn't at the time of writing.
itrush07 5th April 2013, 10:38 Quote
Hmm, how about Firefox OS, is it worth a try?
fluxtatic 5th April 2013, 11:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
But they're becoming a WebKit browser; what they are now doesn't really matter, as they've officially stopped all work on their existing engine.

Even that isn't true, given the news below, but the way it's written, you're tossing Opera's (admittedly tiny) market share in with WebKit, which is not and won't be the case. They are not, in fact, becoming a WebKit browser.
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluxtatic
Additionally, Opera already announced they're along with Google for the ride, and will become a Blink browser.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
They hadn't at the time of writing.
[/QUOTE]

Given timezones/deadlines/etc, I don't think there's any proving wrong one way or the other...I just don't like to see coverage slipping on bit-tech, and the story was as much as there the morning of 4/3 on other sites.
Gareth Halfacree 5th April 2013, 11:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluxtatic
Even that isn't true, given the news below, but the way it's written, you're tossing Opera's (admittedly tiny) market share in with WebKit, which is not and won't be the case. They are not, in fact, becoming a WebKit browser.
No, they're becoming a Blink browser now - a fact that the company had not announced when the story was written. However, Blink is a fork of WebKit, so it's still not inaccurate: like Ubuntu is a fork of Debian, Blink is a fork of WebKit (which, in turn, is technically a fork of KHTML.) Even without Opera's market share, WebKit is still the majority rendering engine: the presence or absence of Opera in no way changes the accuracy of that section of the story. Feel free to look up the precise figures yourself, if you don't trust me.
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluxtatic
[...] the story was as much as there the morning of 4/3 on other sites.
Beg pardon? I can't seem to parse that sentence.

EDIT: Point of fact, Opera hasn't officially announced that it's moving to Blink. The earliest comment I can find is on a TNW story attributed to an unnamed spokesperson at the company, while both its official press portal and developer portal are silent on the matter. I'm not saying it's not moving to Blink, 'cos it clearly is, but it's hardly been shouting from the rooftops about it, has it?
fluxtatic 6th April 2013, 07:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluxtatic
Even that isn't true, given the news below, but the way it's written, you're tossing Opera's (admittedly tiny) market share in with WebKit, which is not and won't be the case. They are not, in fact, becoming a WebKit browser.
No, they're becoming a Blink browser now - a fact that the company had not announced when the story was written. However, Blink is a fork of WebKit, so it's still not inaccurate: like Ubuntu is a fork of Debian, Blink is a fork of WebKit (which, in turn, is technically a fork of KHTML.) Even without Opera's market share, WebKit is still the majority rendering engine: the presence or absence of Opera in no way changes the accuracy of that section of the story. Feel free to look up the precise figures yourself, if you don't trust me.
Quote:
Originally Posted by fluxtatic
[...] the story was as much as there the morning of 4/3 on other sites.
Beg pardon? I can't seem to parse that sentence.

EDIT: Point of fact, Opera hasn't officially announced that it's moving to Blink. The earliest comment I can find is on a TNW story attributed to an unnamed spokesperson at the company, while both its official press portal and developer portal are silent on the matter. I'm not saying it's not moving to Blink, 'cos it clearly is, but it's hardly been shouting from the rooftops about it, has it?

As far as market share, depends on who's numbers you trust. Worldwide combined, IE has 49.2%, with Chrome and Safari coming in at 26.46% together. Mobile-only, WK is crushing everyone else, with at least 85%. All according to Net Marketshare. Other companies have a different mix and different methods, of course.

And I'll cop to actually having contradicted myself between the two comments...and Opera's not exactly being clear, either. They will apparently spend some time as an unforked WK browser in mobile at least, since I doubt they'd waste the time releasing a beta on WK, which they've already done.

'as much as there' meaning while Opera hasn't exactly announced it explicitly, it's a reasonable assumption, given that the original announcement back in February was that they were going with Chromium, rather than the underlying WK engine itself. If the anonymous quote is legit, they may not, since the person says it makes no difference anyway.

At any rate, my original point remains - Opera's numbers don't belong tossed in with WK, even though the combined marketshare (desktop and mobile Opera, that is) would still be practically within the margin of error.

And WK isn't yet majority combined, quite - until mobile has truly destroyed the desktop market or Mozilla gives up and tosses in with WK, too, it'll be IE, sadly (although I'll give it up for MS for finally starting to improve IE)...depending on who's numbers you trust, of course.

Either way, WK or Blink, I'm not entirely thrilled to see Opera go this way...I just hope they remain the browser the other vendors get their good ideas from. Too bad they didn't just release Presto as open-source and see if things might go the other way.
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