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Opera Abandons Proprietary Engine, Chooses WebKit And Chromium

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Presto layout engine dies in 2013

Opera Software, the developer of the popular web browser, has today revealed plans to abandon its own Presto rendering engine in favour of Cromium on desktops, and WebKit on mobile devices. The “gradual” transition to the new platforms will take place during 2013.

The company has also announced that it passed the 300 million monthly user milestone across all of its products.

Replacement of the proprietary engine is seen by some as the death knell for the alternative browser. However, Opera has assured its customers that the change will improve user experience without alienating loyal followers.

Falling into mainstream

Since 1994, Norwegian browser-makers at Opera Software have focused their efforts on delivering faster Web experiences, particularly for mobile devices. Opera Mini is currently the third most popular mobile browser in the world, and holds a 15.35 percent market share. The only mobile browsers doing any better are the default offerings on Android and iOS .

Webkit_Logo“300 million marks the first lap, but the race goes on,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO of Opera Software. “On the final stretch up to 300 million users, we have experienced the fastest acceleration in user growth we have ever seen. Now, we are shifting into the next gear to claim a bigger piece of the pie in the smartphone market.”

The company plans to use the open source WebKit engine to build the next version of Opera Mini, rather than an in-house development. The same engine is currently used by mobile versions of Safari, Chrome and several other popular browsers.

“The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better. It supports the standards we care about, and it has the performance we need,” explained the switch Håkon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera Software.

On the desktops, the Presto engine will be replaced by the open source Chromium project. Russian internet search and service provider Yandex is another company that uses Chromium as the basis for its browser. According to GigaOm, Opera Software is also dropping the proprietary Carakan JavaScript engine in favour of Google’s V8.

“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. Opera will contribute to the WebKit and Chromium projects, and we have already submitted our first set of patches: to improve multi-column layout,” said Wium Lie.

“Opera is also experimenting with WebKit in several research and development projects,” he added.

One of these projects, codenamed “Ice”, is a gesture-controlled mobile browser that (similarly to Ubuntu Mobile) hides all the settings and buttons, in order to take full advantage of the small smartphone screen. The brand new offering is scheduled to be released on Android and iOS in February. The company previously said that the fact it is developing another mobile browser does not mean it will abandon Opera Mini.

The company will show a preview of its upcoming browser for Android at Mobile World Congress, which will take place in Barcelona later this month.

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