The web world was shocked yesterday by Opera’s announcement that it was abandoning its own rendering engine in Presto and transitioning to WebKit, the browser-rendering engine created by Apple for Safari that is open-sourced and now used by Google and others.
The reason given by Opera is that in today’s web world, having its own rendering engine is no longer a necessity. Today, it says, is much different from when the company started in 1995, when the web was a wild west and when having its own rendering engine was necessary to support modern standards. This became even more crucial in the era of Internet Explorer, since during those years IE became a de facto web standard and the web languished as a result.
WebKit changed all that, driven in part by support by Apple and Google.
Here’s Opera’s Bruce Lawson on how things have changed:
“The WebKit project now has the kind of standards support that we could only dream of when our work began. Instead of tying up resources duplicating what’s already implemented in WebKit, we can focus on innovation to make a better browser. Opera innovations such as tabbed browsing, Speed Dial and data-saving compression that speeds up page-load, have been widely copied and improved the web for all.”
I think the company’s right in that WebKit has become very fleet of foot, in a sense the anti-IE. In this type of world, having its own browser-rendering engine to make sure it is on top of the latest web standards is no longer necessary.
More practically, it also frees up significant engineering resources for what is a small company. Sure, Opera loses some sway as a company in the web-standards community, but I don’t think that matters to it. What matters is growing its business through new initiatives like Opera TV.
What does the move mean for Opera TV? After all, Opera’s widget and app platform for TV is being used by a wide variety of consumer electronics manufacturers such as Sony, Toshiba, and others. This is the company that helped bring Nintendo’s Wii platform into the internet era (the Opera browser was behind the Wii store) and was in 23 million TV devices in 2012.
My feeling is this is a good move in the long run. Short term, there will likely be some tweaks in the SDK, but having a web engine that supports standards while being able to customize its platform for specific use cases doesn’t require having its own engine. Look no further than Google’s Chrome and the Chrome store as an example of that.
Last, the large majority of TV OEMs today are utilizing WebKit in some form or another, either as a rendering engine for a dynamic EPG or for apps or as an actual browser. This mean the move to WebKit brings Opera into lockstep with many of its CE customers and could actually help it better focus on customizing its own browser and associated widget and app platforms.