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Google Forking WebKit Rendering Engine With Blink

On Wednesday Google introduced Blink, a new open-source rendering engine based on WebKit. The company said it wasn't an easy decision to introduce another engine, as it could cause "significant implications" for the Web. But having multiple rendering engines is similar to having multiple browsers – they spur innovation and improve the life of the entire open web ecosystem over time.

So why introduce a new rendering engine? Google software engineer Adam Barth said that Chromium uses a different multi-process architecture than other WebKit-based browsers. Supporting multiple architectures over the years has led to increasing complexity for both the WebKit and Chromium projects, he said. Because of this, the collective pace of innovation has slowed.

"The bulk of the initial [Blink] work will focus on internal architectural improvements and a simplification of the codebase," Barth said. "For example, we anticipate that we’ll be able to remove 7 build systems and delete more than 7,000 files—comprising more than 4.5 million lines—right off the bat. Over the long term a healthier codebase leads to more stability and fewer bugs."

TechCrunch reports that Google management asked a lot of hard questions about the move to fork WebKit, but ultimately the decision was made to "reduce the technical complexity of evolving Google’s rendering engine in the direction the team wanted to go in." Previously engineers felt constrained by the technical complexity of working within the WebKit ecosystem.

The move to develop Blink essentially disconnects Google from tablet and smartphone rival Apple. The fruity iPhone maker originally started the WebKit project, forking the KDE project's open-source KHTML engine for the Safari browser. Apple made WebKit open source in 2005, and Google adapted it for the Chrome browser. With the training wheels now off, Google wants to ride the browser wars on its own without having to worry about Safari and other WebKit-based browsers.

So what does this mean for Opera? The company just recently announced that it was no longer developing its own rendering engine, and will support WebKit by using Chromium as the foundation for future Opera browsers. However the company said that after some discussions with Google, it was looking forward to contributing back to Blink "just as we would to any other open source project we feel could use our input."

"In the short term, Blink will bring little change for web developers," Barth said. "Throughout this transition, we’ll collaborate closely with other browser vendors to move the web forward and preserve the compatibility that made it a successful ecosystem."

As CNET points out, companies using the WebKit engine will have to decide which side of the fence they want to end up on given that Blink and WebKit will evolve in different directions. These companies include Samsung, BlackBerry, Amazon and more.

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