Blink and you’re dead: behind Google’s decision to fork WebKit



In what is widely seen as a political move against Apple, Google has forked WebKit into “Blink” which it describes as “an inclusive open source community” and ”a new rendering engine based on WebKit” that is going to “naturally evolve in different directions.”

The biggest change users can expect to see is in all Chrome-based applications in the near future. According to Google VP of Engineering Linus Upson its engineers were feeling constrained by WebKit’s technical complexity and wanted to use something simpler. The appropriately named “Blink”, therefore, should bring a lot more speed and simplicity to rendering on the web. At least, that’s what Google says.

If we step back and look at a bit of history however, the waters become a little murkier. WebKit started off as a rendering engine created by Apple after it forked the KDE project’s open-source KHTML engine for its Safari browser. Google then adapted WebKit for its Chrome browser after Apple announced that WebKit would be open source.

Google’s engineers are currently the main contributors to WebKit but in what is seen as a political move, Google is creating Blink because it cannot ethically make WebKit perform badly for OS X and iOS. PRNG has written a particularly telling article titled “A Short Translation from Bullshit to English of Selected Portions of the Google Chrome Blink Developer FAQ” which totally shreds the original Chromium FAQ as set out by Google.

Some of the highlights include:

Why is Chrome spawning a new browser engine?

The WebKit maintainers wouldn’t let us attack Apple directly, by changing WebKit in ways that would make it perform badly on OS X and iOS.

Because they share a rendering engine, developer efforts to ensure Chrome compatibility currently benefits Apple platforms for free. To prevent this, we must make Chrome and WebKit behave differently.

What sorts of things should I expect from Chrome?

Nothing yet. This is a political move, not a technical one.

Is this new browser engine going to fragment the web platform’s compatibility more?


We intend to distract people from this obvious problem by continually implying that our as-yet unwritten replacement is somehow much better and more sophisticated than the rendering engine that
until yesterday was more than good enough to permit us to achieve total dominance of the Windows desktop browsing market in less than two years.

This strategy has worked extremely well for Netscape, Microsoft, Apple and us in previous iterations of the browser wars, and we firmly believe that everyone in this industry was born yesterday and they will not recognise this for the total bullshit it so clearly is.

What should we expect to see from Chrome and Blink in the next 12 months? What about the long term?

We have a direct strategic interest in destroying Apple’s mobile platforms because their lack of participation in our advertising and social ecosystems does not benefit our long term goals. You should expect Chrome and Blink changes in the short term to be focused in this direction.

In the longer term, we aim to have sufficient control over the installed base of web browsers to dictate whatever conditions we consider most appropriate to our business goals at the time.

Is this going to be open source?

Not really.

What’s interesting to note is that Opera, which recently adopted WebKit as its rendering engine, is going with Google and is going to adopt Blink for their rendering in the future. Then again, Opera’s market share is so small that it has to do whatever Chromium is doing. For those without blinkers on (get it?) this is seen as a tiny salvo in the ensuing battle between Apple and Google in the mobile landscape.

Image: Look Into My Eyes (via Flickr).



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.