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Google Stabs WebKit in the Back

Google takes its browser rendering engine in a new direction

This week, Google pulled out of the loose alliance of companies that utilize the WebKit browser rendering engine. Going forward, Google will go its own way with the WebKit-derived Blink rendering engine, leaving Apple and other WebKit backers in the dust.

To be fair, this was a long time coming. Back in April 2010, I wrote that there was no such thing as a WebKit standard and that each browser, on each OS platform, implements the web browsing engine differently: Read The WebKit Lie and the Future of Web Standards for the gory details. And Google admitted as much when it announced 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,” Google’s Adam Barth wrote in the announcement. “This has slowed down the collective pace of innovation - so today, we are introducing Blink, a new open source rendering engine based on WebKit.”

Best of all, Google claims this new fragmentation is a good thing.

“Having multiple rendering engines—similar to having multiple browsers—will spur innovation and over time improve the health of the entire open web ecosystem,” Barth claims. That kind of puts the kibosh on any hopes that Microsoft would implement WebKit in Internet Explorer, I assume.

According to Barth, work on Blink will start with internal architectural improvements and a simplification of the codebase, leading to a healthier codebase, more stability and fewer bugs. A developer FAQ dives into the gory details.

But the big question mark here is about Apple, which uses the WebKit rendering engine in its Safari web browser. Until this change, both Apple and Google—bitter rivals, by the way—were cooperating on WebKit, contributing code and improvements. Now, WebKit is basically just Apple and a bunch of less influential companies like Samsung, BlackBerry, Opera, and Amazon. Google stabbed WebKit in the back to hurt Apple (and to a lesser extent those other companies).

That said, Blink isn’t completely proprietary. It’s still open source, technically, though other companies won’t necessarily be able to map Google improvements into their own products, each with their different architectures. Overall, it’s not clear that Blink is good for the web. It’s certainly good for Google.

And you know what? Good for them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the company seeking a competitive advantage from its own work. I’m honestly just surprised it took this long.

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