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Devs respond to new Blink and Servo browser engines

Last year there were fears of a developing WebKit monoculture, which were hardly dispelled when Opera announced its decision to ditch its own Presto browser rendering engine in favour of WebKit. However, in a flurry of activity during the past day or so, two new rendering engines have been announced: Blink and Servo.

According to Mozilla, Servo is a collaboration with Samsung. Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich said the project was instigated to enable Mozilla to “take advantage of tomorrow’s faster, multi-core, heterogeneous computing architectures”. The aim is to rebuild the web browser “from the ground up on modern hardware, rethinking old assumptions along the way”.

What this means for the long-term future of Firefox OS is anyone’s guess, but a recent mailing list post suggested Servo was still in its very early stages and there were “many large risks that may prevent Servo from being competitive in any timeframe, let alone a reasonable one”.

By contrast, Blink appears to be an imminent thing. Announced on the Chromium Blog, the project is a fork of WebKit that will initially focus on internal architecture improvements, before potentially diverging from its ‘parent’. Further information was posted on the Blink page of The Chromium Projects website, which also provided a developer FAQ.

A positive move

Industry figures were broadly positive of Blink. Alex Russell, a web developer working on Chrome, said on his blog that the change was made primarily because “going faster matters”. Through Blink, those browsers using the engine will be able to evolve more rapidly and iterate faster.

On his blog, Opera’s Bruce Lawson was also bullish about the move, and argued Blink “has a lot of promise for the web”, dovetailing nicely with Opera’s own need for speed. “When browsers are fast and interoperable, using the web as a platform becomes more competitive against native app development,” he added.

Speaking directly to .net, Lawson noted that “Blink forks WebKit, as WebKit forked KHTML”, and more than 4.5 million lines of code will be removed. The browser will also not use vendor prefixes. In addition, inherited legacy ones from WebKit will be removed where possible. There will also be potential divergence from the likes of Safari, thought Lawson: “I can't comment on a roadmap, but the Chromium Feature Dashboard gives a good indication of a wishlist. The point is to enable and grow the web platform. Whether WebKit decides to implement those features, too, is something I can't comment on — because I don't know — but some of them have red boxes in the Safari column, indicating scepticism or opposition.”

Although some developers have complained about additional testing because of Blink, mobile expert Peter-Paul Koch warned on Twitter: “If you tested only in one WebKit-based browser, you were doing it wrong anyway”. He agreed with Lawson that it was a “great call on vendor prefixes”, and wondered whether other mobile browser vendors would switch, which would “be the real test of Blink's success”.

Developer David Story then wondered what that could mean for Safari: “If Blink diverges significantly from WebKit (which it will), where does that leave Safari/WebKit testing for Win devs, now [Safari for Windows] is dead?”.