Opera: Presto! It’s now WebKit

Opera is replacing its Presto rendering engine with WebKit (Chromium, really, when you factor in the V8 JavaScript rendering engine). Big news as of this morning.

If you’ve been paying attention, it’s not really that big or news. About a month ago a video was leaked showing Opera using WebKit (the video has since been pulled from YouTube). Within the last three weeks two of the Opera folks I follow on Twitter are suddenly no longer Opera folks (Tiffany Brown, Patrick Lauke). Heck, even Opera’s founder sold off some shares yesterday. If you paid attention, you knew something was up.

All of that aside, what does this really mean?

For Developers

I feel most web developers already ignored Opera. For those developers they can continue to be lazy and ignore Opera.

For Users

The short term impact on users will be minimal. Users will upgrade, users will surf, users may notice some sites work or look a little better.

For users trapped on old Android devices with the Android stock browser (that never seems to upgrade), this could result in a better experience — assuming these users know about and download the Chromium-powered Opera.

For Standards

Opera has an impressive place in the mobile world, being at the top of the pile globally. Opera’s participation in the standards process has been valuable, partly because its rendering engine has been used to help move the process forward thanks to early implementations, differences in implementations, and arguments over implementations.

While the standards evangelists at Opera may do a great job of contributing back to Chromium, Google may be the block from those changes being committed. Even when changes get to Chromium, there is no guarantee that they’ll make it back into WebKit, which might involve getting past Apple. Only if those changes get into WebKit do they stand a chance of making it Apple’s Safari.

From the co-chairman of the W3C CSS Working Group, Daniel Glazman:

For the CSS Working Group, that’s an earthquake. One less testing environment, one less opportunity to discover bugs and issues. Let me summarize the new situation of the main contributors to the CSS Working Group:

  • Microsoft: Trident
  • Apple: WebKit
  • Google: WebKit
  • Opera: WebKit
  • Adobe: WebKit and their own Adobe Digital Editions rendering engine found in many ebook readers
  • Mozilla: Gecko
  • Disruptive Innovations: Gecko
  • HP: has delivered WebKit-based products in the past but is pretty browser-agnostic IMO
  • Rakuten: ADE and probably WebKit
  • Kozea: WeasyPrint
  • Qihoo 360 Technology Co: both Trident and WebKit
  • other Members of the Group: I don’t know

Suddenly I feel like the US political term lead from behind is apt.

Some other reactions from the Twitters:


…to the news about Presto

…to older bits

…And evidence that lazy developers can keep on keeping-on (from almost a year ago):

Update, February 14, 2013

Since I posted this, some folks have asked just what Opera did that was so useful? This quote from David Storey’s post outlines some of it pretty well:

Moving from HTML to CSS based layouts? Opera was perhaps the first to have a useable CSS engine. Håkon (father of CSS, and Opera CTO) often says it was the reason he started to believe a browser could be made in Norway, not just the USA, and joined Opera. AJAX? Opera reverse engineered this from MS’ ActiveX based approach and were the spec editors through Anne van Kesteren. HTML5? Started at Opera with Ian Hickson and others. Responsive web design? Media Queries came from Opera, and were implemented for years before showing up in other browsers. What about native video on the Web? Opera again.



The IE6 quote is disingenuous, WebKit is a rendering engine not a browser. It dominated because Windows XP dominated, just as WebKit dominates mobile on the back of Apple & Google's success in that market.

Further to that it's open source and not ultimately controlled by a single vendor, there are already vendor specific forks.

How can anyone seriously suggest Opera's minuscule market share was encouraging competition and innovation at this point? I expect to see Opera-on-WebKit innovating faster and having a far greater impact than Opera-on-Presto ever has.


My feeling on Lea's tweet is that Trident once had ~90% market share and stagnated, and now WebKit is climbing in its market share — the difference being that there are multiple wrappers around WebKit, not just one as IE was to Trident. It's a stretch for a metaphor, yes.

I also fear devs will see a WebKit engine and not care that there are divergent forks, further confusing the issue.

To your last point, I agree. And I hope it pans out.


I think there's another issue that's slightly more problematic – I was mulling a blog post yesterday "testing times" that I'll never get around to writing – it's that as browsers get more standards compliant the positive feedback from testing decreases. I think this may be Opera's problem of recent, if you don't find problems when you test the pressure *to* test decreases.

And I can see that being an ongoing problem, with all browsers, as standards support gets better and deadlines loom, the temptation to cut back on testing that generates little or no return on the time invested will be great.

In response to Adrian Simmons. Reply

I have fallen prey to what you describe. I have pushed things out before all my browser testing was done and then caught problems after launch. On the one hand, I caught them and learned a lesson, on the other hand I was complacent because I expected the browser to just work.

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