Opera flips to WebKit as it focuses on smartphones

Opera will stop developing its own rendering engine in favour of open source alternatives

Nicole Kobie
13 Feb 2013

Opera has confirmed it will stop developing its own rendering engine in favour of WebKit.

At the moment, the Norwegian browser develops its own rendering engine, rather than use the WebKit engine used by many other browsers, including Safari and Chrome.

Opera explained in a blog post that it will move to WebKit as the rendering engine and V8 as the JavaScript engine, which is built using the Chromium browser project code.

Opera said the changes were "primarily an under the hood change", but said users should see better site compatibility.

One change developers may notice is Chromium supports the WebM, Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis media codecs, but does not support H.254 or MP3 codecs.

The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better

Opera said it originally made its own rendering engine in an effort to drive standards, but said that's now best done via WebKit.

"The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better," said the chief technology officer of Opera Software, Håkon Wium Lie. "It supports the standards we care about, and it has the performance we need."

"It makes more sense to have our experts working with the open source communities to further improve WebKit and Chromium, rather than developing our own rendering engine further," he said, adding Opera will start contributing to the WebKit and Chromium open source communities, and has already submitted a patch to improve multi-column layout.

"The shift to WebKit means more of our resources can be dedicated to developing new features and the user-friendly solutions that can be expected from a company that invented so many of the features that are today being used by everyone in the browser industry," he added.

The transition will be gradual, Opera said. The first browser to switch will be the smartphone browsers, but others will start to move over with their next updates.

The move was expected after Opera showed off an experimental browser running WebKit called ICE last month. "As a leading innovator in browsers, we are very excited that ICE received such great buzz," Wium Lie said.

Wium Lie said Opera will share more about the ICE project in the future, and will reveal its Android browser at Mobile World Congress at the end of the month.

300m users

Opera also revealed it has hit the 300 million milestone, including all monthly users across its phone, tablet, TV and PC browsers.

Lars Boilesen, CEO of Opera Software, said the browsers saw the "fastest acceleration in user growth" in the last little while. "Now, we are shifting into the next gear to claim a bigger piece of the pie in the smartphone market."

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