Strange day for the Open Web
It's a really strange day... The annoucement Opera drops the Presto engine came at european hours, of course. Fortunately, the city of New York woke me up at 4am with road construction and lots of noise from construction engines. Found my iPad silently piling up tons of notifications from friends about Opera. Discovering the news, I should not be surprised since the rumors started to percolate in fact two weeks ago...
Opera-the-company is still here while Opera-the-rendering-engine is no more. It clearly reminds me of the last moments of Netscape I can't help but thinking this is not a new beginning but the end of an era, and most certainly a bad omen.
The Web wakes up less fragmented today but this is a sad moment because fragmentation and competition are good for innovation. Just one year ago, Opera was one of the advocates for one of the strangest decision ever requested in the CSS Working Group, the authorization for a rendering engine to implement the CSS prefix of another rendering engine. It never happened but what happened today is another magnitude, unfortunately.
Oh, it's not the market share of Opera that makes the difference. Their self-acclaimed 300 million users are a drop in the ocean and are mostly related to low-end phones, still a huge market in some parts of the world. No, it's the loss of an independant innovation center. Opera engineers will discover the power of a
r- you can't control... They aim at an iOS browser. Wait, based like the others on the slow html control all but Safari use? Seriously????
I can't see Opera still having a huge differenciating factor now, unless they drastically reinvent themselves and almost change of market. If Opera was a smaller company, I would say they're looking to value their browser implementation skills to be acquired by one the roughly ten big players desperately currently looking for WebKit expertise. In other terms, an investor's perspective, not an industrial one. Oh, wait, did I say it? Oh crap...
For the CSS Working Group, that's an earthquake. One less testing environment, one less opportunity to discover bugs and issues. Let me summarize the new situation of the main contributors to the CSS Working Group:
- Microsoft: Trident
- Apple: WebKit
- Google: WebKit
- Opera: WebKit
- Adobe: WebKit and their own Adobe Digital Editions rendering engine found in many ebook readers
- Mozilla: Gecko
- Disruptive Innovations: Gecko
- HP: has delivered WebKit-based products in the past but is pretty browser-agnostic IMO
- Rakuten: ADE and probably WebKit
- Kozea: WeasyPrint
- Qihoo 360 Technology Co: both Trident and WebKit
- other Members of the Group: I don't know
One CSS prefix is gone and
-webkit-* increases its power. Yesterday night, I was telling Håkon Lie (Opera CTO) I could imagine him in the amazing NYC Mariott Marquis elevators looking down to Lars-Erik Bolstad (Opera VP Core Technology) on the 8th floor (at the bar with us, obviously) and saying « I am you father », Lars-Erik answering « Noooooo... ». Today, I can feel the power of the dark side of the Force.
Opera, do us two favors please:
- first, don't trash Presto, open its source !
- second, tell us the fate of Opera-the-desktop-browser, not mentioned at all in the press release
Thanks and good luck.