-o- is over

Opera to switch to Chrome’s rendering engine

Elliot Bentley

Independent browser vendor adopts WebKit engine to “focus on innovation to make a better browser”.

Opera, the independent browser with a cult following, has announced a switch to WebKit, the rendering engine used in both Safari and Chrome.

It will replace Opera’s in-house engine Presto, which turned ten years old just last month.

The company says that the move to WebKit, which also includes Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine, is to allow a refocus on higher-level features. “Instead of tying up resources duplicating what’s already implemented in WebKit, we can focus on innovation to make a better browser,” wrote Opera Web Evangelist Bruce Lawson.

Due to Opera’s relatively small market share, currently just 1.8% of the worldwide market by some measures, it is often ignored by web developers in compatibility testing. With the same rendering engine as Chrome, “consumers will initially notice better site compatibility, especially with mobile-facing sites – many of which have only been tested in WebKit browsers,” wrote Lawson.

Indeed, all major mobile browsers – the Android stock browser, Google Chrome, Mobile Safari and now Opera – use WebKit, and as the market moves away from PCs towards mobile devices WebKit seems likely to dominate the market.

This under-the-hood change initially will be rolled out to Opera’s smartphone apps, while Opera Desktop and other products will make the switch “later”.

For developers, it will mean fewer platforms to test on and no need for the -o- prefix on experimental CSS features. However, the window.opera object will cease to exist in future versions of Opera.

The WebKit engine began life in 1998 as a fork of KDE’s KHTML and KJS engines to be specifically used in Apple’s flagship web browser Safari. It was open-sourced in 2005, and in 2006 adopted by Google Chrome, which has since gone on to become one of the most popular browsers in the world.

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