Opera Confirms “Gradual” Shift To WebKit — Starting With Smartphones — As It Clocks Up 300M Users

Browser maker Opera plans to move to using the WebKit engine, as well as Chromium, for “most” upcoming versions of browsers for smartphones and computers this year. Its first WebKit product is likely to be a smartphone browser for Android — due to be previewed at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona later this month — with desktop and other products following.

The initial shift is aimed at increasing its competitiveness on Android and iOS, it said:

To provide a leading browser on Android and iOS, this year Opera will make a gradual transition to the WebKit engine, as well as Chromium, for most of its upcoming versions of browsers for smartphones and computers.

Opera added that working with the open source communities to “further improve” WebKit and Chromium makes more sense than continuing to develop its our own rendering engine.

“The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better. It supports the standards we care about, and it has the performance we need,” said Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie in a statement, adding: “Opera will contribute to the WebKit and Chromium projects, and we have already submitted our first set of patches: to improve multi-column layout.”

Writing on the Opera developer blog, Bruce Lawson said moving to using WebKit and Chromium elements, plus V8 for JavaScript, will also help Opera improve compatibility with mobile websites: “Consumers will initially notice better site compatibility, especially with mobile-facing sites — many of which have only been tested in WebKit browsers,” he wrote.

On the question of why Opera is switching to WebKit, Lawson said the web is a very different place to when Opera started out in 1995, competing with Netscape and Internet Explorer. Then it was necessary to build its own rendering engine to — in his words — “drive web standards, and thus the web forward”. Today, says Lawson, the web has a worthy, interoperable standard in HTML5.

“The WebKit project now has the kind of standards support that we could only dream of when our work began,” he added.

Opera’s shift to WebKit is not a huge surprise — the company showed off a WebKit-powered mobile browser called Ice last month. Ice is part of its experimentation with WebKit, it said today, revealing it has “several” R&D projects in the works. “The shift to WebKit means more of our resources can be dedicated to developing new features and the user-friendly solutions,” added Wium Lie.

Also today, Opera announced it’s clocked up 300 million users across all its browser products — on mobiles, tablets, TVs and computers.

Commenting in a press release, Opera Software CEO, Lars Boilesen, said that in the run up to 300 million users the company experienced “the fastest acceleration in user growth” it has ever seen. “Now, we are shifting into the next gear to claim a bigger piece of the pie in the smartphone market,” he added.