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As Gecko Scurries Away, Camino Looks To WebKit To Save Itself

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Long ago, before Chrome existed for OS X (so, 2009) my browser of choice was Camino. You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of it, it’s an open-source project that zero people work on full-time. And it’s only available on the Mac. In fact, if you have heard of it, it may be as the other browser Mozilla makes. And its future is now at a crossroads.

As the team lays out in a post on their blog, a major change is needed to keep Camino going. Why? Because throughout its existence, the browser has been built using Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine — the one built for Firefox. But now that engine will no longer be embeddable in other browsers — even other Mozilla browsers, like Camino.

This means that they either go forward continuing to support the legacy versions of Gecko — which are already out of date, by the way, with the launch of Firefox 4.0 — or they have to go in a different direction. Obviously, they’re leaning towards the latter. And if they do go that way, the best option is clear: WebKit.

WebKit is the engine that powers Google Chrome and Apple Safari (as well as their mobile browsers). It has long been considered to be the hot engine of choice, even though the two largest browsers, Firefox and IE, don’t use it. In other words, it’s a nice fall-back option for Camino to have.

And others, namely Epiphany (the native browser for Gnome) have made the same jump in the past.

But there’s still a very big problem for Camino going WebKit: implementing it.

Again, Camino has no full-time employees working on it. It’s a true open-source community effort. For a long while, the project was lead by Mike Pinkerton, but he jumped over to help build Chrome for Mac long ago (but still contributes to the Camino project). Other contributors are Mozilla employees. These people all have very busy day jobs.

Here’s how they explain the problem:

Beyond that, the future is unclear. As a purely community-based open source project, no one is employed to work on Camino; all Camino developers are volunteers, working on Camino in their spare time, as a labor of love. While maintaining embedding in a fork of Gecko is theoretically possible, we don’t have the manpower for a sustained effort of that kind. A more realistic option would be to port Camino to WebKit, but while this would be much easier to maintain in the future, it would require a large amount of initial work. While we would like to take that approach, we don’t have the manpower to do it on our own—we encourage anyone who might be interested in adapting the Camino code to a new rendering engine join our development discussion list.

In other words, web developers, mount up! Save Camino!

[thanks Jeff]