There And Back Again
Ah, the browser wars. What would these pages be without them? With the launch of Chrome, Google joins Apple as a strong advocate for WebKit, the open source browser engine that combines fast rendering with plenty of standards-compliant goodness. Now, thanks to a really cheeky developer, WebKit might garner some support from a very unlikely source — good ol’ M-dollar.
It all started during a propaganda session by Steve Ballmer. A young developer, as yet untainted by said propaganda, asked the exalted CEO, “Why is IE still relevant and why is it worth spending money on rendering engines when there are open source ones available that can respond to changes in Web standards faster?” Ordinarily, this would have elicited a reaction that would rise through the YouTube ranks like nothing before it. However, the response was even stranger: “Open source is interesting. Apple has embraced WebKit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8.”
Before you head out into the streets cheering, note that last bit: “build extensions for IE 8.” Which means that even if IE 8 uses WebKit, Microsoft will continue to make IE-specific features, which means that it won’t end the messy era of IE-specific code. Soon after, Ballmer confirmed that Microsoft hasn’t suddenly gone soft — the company will stick to its current Trident rendering engine, because “there will continue to be a lot of proprietary innovation by us, and other people, inside the browser itself.”
Had Microsoft decided to the WebKit way, however, there would have been a lot to look forward to. Firstly, with the growing number of Macs, Web developers need to make sure that their applications work with Safari, which uses WebKit. Secondly, and more importantly, a WebKit-powered IE on Windows Mobile devices wouldn’t be nearly as awful. Android phones use WebKit as well, so a site designed for WebKit will work well with IE and Chrome on your PC, Safari on your Mac, IE on your Windows Mobile phone, and the browser on your Android phone. Finally, the WebKit-powered Safari 4 beta is the only browser engine to pass the ACID 3 test so far. The WebKit Way would have brought us a Web that we’ve all dreamed of: one that is standards compliant, and runs everywhere.
And, of course, it had to be Microsoft who ruined it.