The WebKit race to Windows – Adobe is already there

In my article about how Apple should open up the iPhone i also mentioned my rationale why Apple is bringing Safari to Windows:

Well may be the primary reason is to introduce a development environment and runtime platform that is agnostic to the underlying OS (be i Mac OS X, Windows, iPhone etc.) but under the control of Apple. I think the underlying idea is to provide somethig that compares to AIR, Silverlight, OpenLaszlo, … etc in the RIA space.

At that time i wasn’t aware of the fact that Adobe Apollo, now Adobe Integrated Runtime (the AIR mentioned in my quote) , not only brings Flash (Flash 9) to the desktop, but also integrates a full blown HTML rendering engine with support for HTML, JavaScript, CSS, XHTML and DOM.

Now there has to be a reason to call it integrated runtime.

And guess which HTML rendering engine is used: WebKit.

This fact was brought to my attention while reading the Intro to “Apollo for Adobe Flex Developers – PocketGuide” . To quote from pages number 9 and 10:

Why WebKit? Adobe spent a considerable amount of time researching which HTML engine to use within Apollo and used a number of criteria that ultimately led them to settle on WebKit.

Open project. … WebKit provides Apollo with a full-featured HTML engine that is under continuous development by a robust development community that includes individual developers as well as large companies such as Nokia and Apple. …

Proven technology that web developers know. … While something may work perfectly in Firefox on the Mac, it may completely fail in InternetExplorer on Windows. Because of this, testing and debugging browser-based content can be a nightmare for developers. Adobe wanted to ensure that developers were already familiar with the HTL engine used within Apollo, and that they did not have to learn new all of the quirks and bugs of a new engine. Since Safari (which is built on top of WebKit) is the default browser for Mac OS X, developers should be familiar with developing for it.

Minimum effect on Apollo runtime size. The target size for Apollo is betwenn 5 and 9 MB. The WebKit code base was well-written and organized and had a minimal impact on the final Apollo runtime size. Indeed, the current runtime size wiht both Flash and HTML is just a little over 5MB.

Proven ability to run on mobile devices. While the first release of Apollo runs only on personla computers, the long-term vision is to ectend the Apollo runtime from the desktop to cell phones and other devices. WebKit has a proven ability to run on such devices and has been ported to cell phones by both Nokia and Apple.

So while this means that actually Apple is not only late, but very late in the RIA race on the desktop it also means that WebKit is going to be the browser platform to watch. Although currently only third on the browser scale, IMHO

  • WebKit has the potential to overtake the Gecko rendering engine if one is comnsidering nt only the desktop. While there it at most the lackluster mobile support with Gecko (anybody tried Minimo?), WebKit is the default rendering engine on Nokias newer phones as well as the iPhone.
  • With Adobe using WebKit with AIR and Apple bringing Safari to Windows, WebKit is the only rendering engine supporting ALL kinds of uses. Hence, WebKit has even a chance to make a dent in Microsofts IE share.