Earlier this week, Google announced it would be forking WebKit to start its own web rendering engine, called Blink. Google's argument is that free of certain constraints imposed by WebKit, it'll be better able to improve Chrome — and other browsers that adopt Blink — above and beyond what is possible now. That's great for users, but what about those of us neck-deep in web dev?
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Google's stated its long-term plans for Blink are to foster a "healthier codebase" and as part of that edict, nothing we need to worry about should change for a while. To quote software engineer Adam Barth on the Chromium Blog:
In the short term, Blink will bring little change for web developers. The bulk of the initial work will focus on internal architectural improvements and a simplification of the codebase. For example, we anticipate that we'll be able to remove 7 build systems and delete more than 7000 files — comprising more than 4.5 million lines — right off the bat.
As any developer can appreciate, cutting this much cruft from a project is only going to make it easier to maintain and improve on.
The post also mentions that having multiple rendering engines will "spur innovation" and "improve the health of the entire open web ecosystem", as one would expect from any industry with many competitors. Like with graphics APIs OpenGL and DirectX, vendors can add their own extensions (more so with OpenGL these days) that, if deemed useful, are rolled into the core specification.
When it comes to adding new features, Google will be employing a system based on "compatibility risk" to determine what should get priority. The process is described on the Blink project page, but essentially, any proposed "web platform features" with a high compatibility risk will be examined more closely before getting the go-ahead. The risk is based on the following factors:
Other vendors shipping compatible implementations A mature specification in the relevant standards body Positive signals from other browser vendors A small API footprint
There's even some rules of thumb. For example, if two browsers have the feature in their "stable" releases, it's consider a "de facto standard". When exceptions arise, the feature will be proposed to the "relevant standards group" and publicly discussed with other browser vendors.
So, until Google changes its methodology, I don't see Blink being a problem for designers. Browsers have come a long way in the past 5-10 years — even Internet Explorer — and the number of crazy hacks one has to employ has diminished significantly.
Still, for the sake of completeness, we'll be adding one more browser to the test list and it's difficulty to find anything positive to say about that. In fact, there's a point that seems to have gone unnoticed as far as I can tell — the performance gap.
We're already seeing it now with WebGL — some browsers just handle 3D better than others. One of Blink's aims is to improve the speed of web rendering; Google's even provided a list of proposed changes, some of which could result in noticeable boosts:
In the long-term, it's certainly a good thing, but perhaps we're in for a few headaches as the browser landscape adjusts.
Blink: A rendering engine for the Chromium project [Chromium Blog, via VentureBeat]