This week, Google announced they were going to create a new fork of Webkit called Blink.
Among the reasons given for the move by Google was that it was a complicated and resource-sucking task maintaining two architectures, including the multi-process rendering engine at the heart of Chromium. From the Chromium blog:
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. This has slowed down the collective pace of innovation – so today, we are introducing Blink, a new open source rendering engine based on WebKit.
Initially the code base for Blink and Webkit will not differ drastically as they are growing from the same starting point, but over time the fork that is Blink will grow ever-farther from that of Webkit.
What does this all mean? Here are some implications of this move by Google.
A more fractured browser market
There’s no doubt that this move will fracture the browser market further. In reality, there are now four power-centers in the browser wars: Blink (Google, Opera), Webkit (Apple), Servo (Firefox, Samsung) and Internet Explorer.
While web standards from the W3C technically give a common framework to web developers, the reality is that browser engines are increasingly differentiated (as Google itself has said in its reasoning to develop Blink), which ultimately means that developers have to choose which camp they go with.
This is, after all, why Opera announced just a month ago it was abandoning its own browser engine to move to Webkit, since web developers were increasingly ignoring how their sites looked in Opera and developing mainly for how their site would render in Webkit (since, after all, this meant how it would look on iOS and Android devices).
And now? Having no real choice, Opera’s also made it known they will be going with Blink.
It’s about Apple, stupid
While someone took the time to write a de-bunker (or de-BS’er) of Google’s announcement to lay bare their motives, some of the points made by this Apple-centric point of view do have merit. After all, it was always an uneasy alliance made necessary by the strong growth of iOS devices, but now that rising Android market share has evened out the competition a bit, this move does feel like equal parts political/competitive as much as it is about spurring “innovation and over time improv(ing)e the health of the entire open web ecosystem.”
In the end, Blink gives Google the ability to create a rendering engine that isn’t optimized from the beginning for Apple devices, a blow to Apple but also a blow to both web developers as well as web user who will not have to live with the compromises and choices that web developers have to make in a more fractured web environment.
The Browser is the new OS
There’s no doubt that the browser is becoming the new battleground for software, as apps are moving from local clients to the web, and this move by Google is a further illustration of that. As Stephen Shankland at CNET writes,
As Web apps have become more sophisticated and the Internet has become a foundation for so much work, entertainment, communication, and learning, Web engines have risen commensurately in importance. They’re now effectively operating systems unto themselves
So, welcome to the new world. It looks a lot like the old world, except now the fight’s in the browser, instead of below it.