Why All Browsers Should Move to WebKit

As a web-developer I know the pains of trying to work around kinks to support all variations of all major browser to have a unified look, feel and performance. Even though today the top browsers do a better job at supporting and implementing new web-standards its far from a perfect situation. So when I heard Opera was switching its rendering engine to WebKit, a first major browser to do so among many other Opera firsts, I was excited because it means I will have one less browser to test for mundanely simply things that all browser should have by default, and do a good job at it.

Why do all browser have such varied level of performance in implementing web standards?

  • Because they are lazy, think IE-6 team.
  • Because they don’t agree with web-standards and pick and choose which standard they want to support.
  • Because depending on how their rendering engine works, it can be harder or take longer to implement on some browsers.
  • Because every browser team has their own definition of how a web standard should be implemented. So even if all browsers support a web-standard they might not work the same way.

If you want a single example on pitfalls of having too many options, web rendering engines would be the perfect candidate.


Yes there are valid reasons to worry about having a single choice for rendering engine. That it might make web-standards less important. That the power might shift to rendering engine as opposed web standards. But, WebKit is opensource and there already exists many forks of it. Think of WebKit as a Linux kernel and Browsers, using WebKit, as Linux Distributions. You can use the same Kernel/WebKit but your performance and feature will and can wildly vary depending on your implementation. There is a reason why people stick with certain distribution, even though the underlying infrastructure is the same/similar the end result and experience can be wildly different. Centos and Ubuntu may use the same kernel and still provide wildly different level of user experience.

I rather deal with several forks of WebKit, than deal with different rendering engines. At the end only the browser with the best user-experience will win the race. As we have seen with Firefox and now with Chrome.

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  • katzgrau

    Gotta disagree.

    The problem is that different rendering engines have different interpretations of a single set of web standards.

    The solution *is not* to agree on using a single implementation/rendering engine. The solution is to help tighten web standards to the point where they are less open to interpretation.

    There was a time when most of the web used a single rendering engine. And that’s when IE 6 dominated. And that’s when IE’s behavior became the de-facto web standard instead of the actual web standard. It forces developers to develop for a browser as opposed to the underlying web standards.

    You’re asking for an IE scenario all over again, with the implicit assumption that WebKit will never go horribly off course like IE did. We need more voices in the interpretation of standards, not less.

    • http://hassankhan.me/ Hassan Khan

      +1 totally agree, although OP does make a fair point, WebKit-based browsers are probably the vast majority of browsers out there in the wild.

    • http://www.andysnotebook.com andydavies

      Tightening the standards so that browser interpret things in the same way is what WHATWG is doing.

    • http://ashudave.tumblr.com/ Ashutosh Dave

      Totally agree with you!!

    • draceros

      But wouldn’t the scenario be somewhat different since WebKit is open source and IE6 was closed source?

      I’m just saying that someone probably will keep WebKit up to w3c’s web standards.

  • http://twitter.com/MauritzNordlund Mauritz Nordlund

    More importantly: Why don’t all OSes move to Unix/Linux? I don’t understand MSFT. Why not do as Apple: An open source kernel and put on the windows layer. The only reason why MSFT don’t do that is that they live on making crappy products that forces its users to upgrade.

  • henk

    yeah, everyone using the same engine would make our lifes easier indeed.

    the last 20 or so years, while working in large corporations, opera never has been anywhere close to be considered a “browser”, them defaulting to webkit atm is more of a despeate cry for me

    the way i see it: it’s not that everyone should move to the same rendering engine; everyone should agree upon the same standarsds and make sure their engine respects those and go with it

    just my $0.02

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnHaugeland John Haugeland

    Software monoculture is never healthy.

  • http://twitter.com/localpcguy localpcguy

    Definitely disagree. I don’t argue that there are different implementations of standards, but most of that happens before the standards are finalized. As they get tightened up, the browser engines come closer together and are generally the same once the implementation is unprefixed. Before that, I don’t care, it helps figure out issues in the proposed standards to have slightly different interpretations of it.

    Having a single engine would lead to politics behind the scenes as to which way to go, rather than trying a few different ways and figuring out which actually works the best in practice.

    And while I don’t necessarily fear WebKit becoming the next IE6, I think the growth of the web would be slower without the competition of the different engines, and the web would be worse off for it. I don’t want that just so my job is slightly easier.

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