Welcoming Google to the WebKit project

ForksmallIn my talk at LCE 2007, I touched on the issue of proprietary branches and their effect on developer morale.

On the WebKit/GTK+ team, we’ve had to deal with this issue a few times.

  • A year ago, Adobe promised great new graphics features from their AIR fork of WebKit that never materialised. We chose to redouble efforts to improve the open Cairo graphics backend instead of sitting about waiting for their contributions, a decision that has paid off.
  • More recently, a company has been working on a largely proprietary fork of the browser called OWB. It is remarkable that, looking at some of their recent code drops (which cannot be easily merged back to trunk due to refactoring), they still have bugs and performance issues that we fixed in WebKit trunk several months ago. It’s sometimes unpleasant to implement features that others are working on behind closed doors, but we do it in an open forum with peer review. What’s more, we do it better.

Fast forward, November 2007

Today, Google announced that it’s developing a WebKit-based browser as part of its Linux-based Android mobile platform.

In the hours since this news came about, contributors have already started to ask whether their work is about to be obsoleted or replaced by a Google code drop. It’s inevitable that there’ll be some overlap, but there’s no cause for concern from where we stand.

I’d like to make it clear that we’ve already discussed this scenario, and it’s life as usual for the GTK+ port. If there are contributions to components of the GTK+ port, they will be reviewed through the same processes as any other contribution. Same goes for other platforms.

Furthermore, it’s good that WebKit/GTK+ already has portable graphics capabilities to any forked browser since we’ve been tracking the very latest features including recent SVG updates, CSS transformation and CSS animation support. Another WIP feature of particular interest to mobile devices is the upcoming full page scaling support. Our work will be useful as a generic component for all new platforms.

With current efforts to bridge Web applications and the underlying platform and research into features like bridging JavaScriptCore and other engines, it’s likely that we are also ahead of the game in the Web-as-a-platform department.

All that said, I look forward to working together with the developers of the Android platform towards a more open and flexible mobile Web!

Will this turn into a separately branded fork of WebKit? Only time will tell.