Ever since Safari came on the scene 10 years ago, there have been four major rendering engines used for web browsers:
- Trident, used in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer
- Gecko, used in Mozilla Firefox
- Webkit, used in Apple’s Safari and Google Chrome
- Presto, used in Opera
But, very shortly, that list will be narrowed down to three, as Opera has announced a move to Webkit. The next major versions of Opera’s web browser products will all use Webkit, with its Presto rendering engine becoming deprecated.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, users of all Webkit-based browsers will benefit from the input of Opera’s developers, who will no longer need to work on Presto. And web developers will have one less browser to test against, as any web page that displays correctly in Safari or Google Chrome should work fine in future versions of Opera as well. Plus, Webkit is now a very mature and reliable rendering engine.
But on the other hand, it means more homogenisation. Whilst Opera’s market share is small, having three of the five main browsers using the same rendering engine reduces choice and variety in the market. I’m also concerned that, in future, people will see Opera as being the same as Google Chrome and disregard it.
It does, however, pave the way for an iOS version of Opera. Apple’s App Store rules forbid web browsers from using anything other than Webkit, hence why there isn’t a full version of Firefox on the iPhone like there is on Android phones. Because Google Chrome uses Webkit, Google were able to make an iOS version. Opera can now release an iOS app that will work in broadly the same way as their apps on other platforms.
What will happen to the code for Presto in the meantime is anyone’s guess. I hope Opera release the source code, if they no longer intend to use it, so that independent developers can pick it up, as a hobby project if nothing else.
The next few months will tell us whether this was the right move for Opera. I wish them the best of luck, though.