Microsoft Probably Not Really Considering WebKit For IE

Next to chanting ‘developers, developers, developers’ once again at a Sydney developer conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has stated that he thought the idea of using open source application framework WebKit as the rendering engine for Internet Explorer (and its mobile counterpart) was “interesting” and that the company “may look at that.”

According to Techworld, Ballmer specifically said:

“Open source is interesting. Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8.”

While that would make perfect sense if you ask me, it would be a huge mistake to jump to any conclusions based on those words. It’s highly unlikely that Microsoft would endorse an open-source product in such a big way, and I can’t imagine them working on the same code base together with Apple either.

Still, embracing WebKit as the foundation for future versions of IE would be welcomed by many a developer. Using WebKit would enable the company to leverage the framework’s standards compliance and impressive speed, while still enabling Microsoft to extend IE with proprietary extensions.

WebKit was originally derived by Apple from the Konqueror browser’s KHTML software library for use as the engine of Safari 1.0. It’s now being used by Nokia and Apple for their mobile browsers, and Google Chrome and the Android browser are powered by WebKit as well. Firefox on the other hand has its own rendering engine called Gecko.

Firefox, Safari and Chrome keep taking bites out of Microsoft’s market share for web browsing at a rapid pace. As ReadWriteWeb recently reported, Mozilla claims an impressive 20% worldwide market share for Firefox.

On a sidenote: Ballmer apparently also admitted at the event that Microsoft got delayed with the transition from IE6 to IE7 during the development of Longhorn, which later became Vista.

“But I don’t want to go there.”

Smart thinking.

Update: ZDNet Australia has a video of the full Ballmer speech. For the WebKit comments, jump to the 38:45 mark.