Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Gecko and WebKit in 2008

Category: Browsers, Firefox

WebKit gets all of the love these days. It’s the skinny little brother that gets all of the hot dates. It is easy to think that Gecko is complex, but there is nuance to the tale, and Ars brings that nuance.

After explaining the strengths of WebKit, and the history of Gecko, they move on to notice how much of Gecko has changed:

From a technical perspective, Gecko is now very solid and no longer lags behind WebKit. A testament to the rate at which Gecko has been improving is its newfound viability in the mobile space, where it was practically considered a nonstarter not too long ago. Mozilla clearly has the resources, developer expertise, and community support to take Gecko anywhere that WebKit can go.

We asked Mike Shaver, who is now Mozilla’s VP of engineering, to comment on how he views the Gecko/WebKit dichotomy today and why he believes Gecko is still important.

“I have a lot of respect for the WebKit guys, and for the work they’ve done,” he told us in an e-mail. “The web is better because they’re around and pushing hard, and Mozilla itself is better from the competitive push as well as cooperation ranging from new web standards to plugin interfaces to the nerdiest of implementation discussions.”

Although he respects the technical achievements of WebKit, he believes that the WebKit development model and fragmentation in the WebKit ecosystem would create serious challenges that make it unsuitable for Firefox.

“We’re getting a ton of value out of a unified engine for all our projects, from desktop to device and xulrunner to Thunderbird. If you look at the WebKit landscape right now, you see a lot of different projects there and it’s not clear how or if they’ll converge,” he wrote. “We’d obviously need to hack WebKit pretty hard to adapt it to our needs, and it’s not likely that adding another fast-moving variant to that mix would be helpful to anyone, least of all WebKit! We learned about fork maintenance and integration the hard way (and had to learn it a couple of times, to be honest), so that’s not trouble that we want to borrow.”

I admit that I used to think it would be good for Mozilla to get behind WebKit, and port XUL on top of it. With Firefox 3 they proved that they can change code under the hood and be productive. Having the two systems enables competition, and can only be a good thing for the Web right now.

One example of Mozilla moving faster these days is the Firefox 3.1 alpha launch which has Gecko 1.9.1 and the following features:

Posted by Dion Almaer at 5:28 am
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More new stuff in Firefox 3.1
http://developer.mozilla.org/en/Firefox_3.1_for_developers

Comment by Jeria — September 10, 2008

To have two competing (friendly) systems, which are both open source sounds like a wet dream to me.
What’s the problem?
If they are both standards compliant and if they are both in reasonable agreement on where to go next, this could work out really, really good.
Both sides could learn from the others strengths and/or weaknesses, and come up with a solution which would benefit both, since it’s open source.
Now, if only IE8 would go down the open source path as well.
I’m not seeing why not, not doing it seems to do nothing for them, but to a) isolate them, and b) making it damn near impossible to benefit from what others are doing.
If IE was a commercial software which they were selling and thus needed to protect, whether this is actually logical or not, maybe, but as it stands, I dont get it.
If someone does, please explain it to me…

Comment by Mikael Bergkvist — September 10, 2008

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