Bill Reiss is a Windows Platform Development MVP and a Senior Consultant for AgileThought

It’s time for Microsoft to switch to WebKit for IE

UPDATE: I was wrong and I now feel I recommended the incorrect solution to the problem. After hearing back from many people more knowledgeable that I am, I think this is a better solution: http://www.billreiss.com/follow-up-to-webkit-for-ie-hint-i-was-wrong/

With all of the hype about HTML 5, it sounded like we were on the way to web development nirvana where as long as you coded to the HTML 5 spec, things would “just work”. This is a great idea and it would be true except for the fact that developers are not coding to the HTML 5 spec, they are making sure that their stuff works great with WebKit based browsers. You can’t blame them since Safari and Chrome use WebKit, and therefore a huge majority of their mobile users are on WebKit. The W3C sees the danger of this and is very concerned that WebKit could become the defacto standard.

Internet Explorer has made great strides, and they can claim that in some tests they beat out WebKit in support for standards, or that they have better performance in some areas (like with a virtual fishbowl). According to html5test.com, IE10 is still lagging in HTML5 standards support but it’s definitely getting closer.

I end up asking myself why Microsoft spends so much effort supporting a browser that still can’t become a clear leader in HTML 5 support. Microsoft’s insistence on continuing with a non-WebKit based browser, no matter what the supposed benefits are, is negatively impacting their users.

When it comes down to it, what does Microsoft gain from IE? I’m really not clear about this, and I’ve asked many other people inside and outside Microsoft about this, and I still have no idea. Even if there was a clear advantage, wouldn’t that advantage still be around if they built a version of IE on top of WebKit?

VHS beat BetaMax, even though BetaMax was considered by most to be the better technology. This happened again with HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. Microsoft was on the losing side of that battle, and now rumors are that the next XBox will have Blu-Ray. At this point it really doesn’t matter who has the superior technology, so even if Microsoft feels IE is technically superior, it’s too late.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Devoy/700595710 John Devoy

    maybe MS like to be in control of their browser?

  • MrKii

    on which universe was HD-DVD better than Blu-Ray? :)

  • Roy

    I don’t agree that webkit is becoming the defacto standard. Depending on how you calculate statistics and which network of websites you sample IE has a market share between 55 and 28% versus 42~23% for webkit (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_web_browsers).

    Feature test websites like html5test.com are fun for developers (like you and me) to look at but mean absolutely nothing to the user who just wants to browse websites. Even if their lives would be impacted by one or two missing features you said it yourself that even IE is getting quite close to the standards now days and they are making quite an effort to uphold the standards so this problem should solve itself (HTML5 has only real been released a few months ago). Microsoft uses the same IE engine on desktops and mobile devices which is a big win for us developers! 

    Hypothetical if MS were to switch to webkit, what would they win? They would have to familiarize themselves with a totally new render engine. Would have to figure out how to wire it into their existing product and would probably need to make a lot of chances to the render engine as well. I’m not sure if all improvements Apple and Google made are ported back to the open-source project. But if not IE would be technically inferior, which is exactly what we don’t want.

    • http://twitter.com/JayKimble JayKimble

      HTML5 was released? My quick search of the Internet turns up a date “sometime in 2014.”

  • http://twitter.com/TehGrumpyDude Teh Dude

    It doesn’t seem to be a smart move to put once web faith into the hands of a company that adds stuff to WebKit to make its ChromeOS more useful (for whatever measurement of useful they utilize in their ivory tower). Call me paranoid but in these times I do not want that company to provide the engine for all browsers (lets ignore poor Gecko for the moment :)) as they focus on their own well being without caring much about others and especially not about the users.

  • Flydog57

    Let’s get in the way-back machine.  10 years ago, one browser rendering engine had a near monopoly.  People started using extensions that browser implemented to make their web sites “better”.

    That browser was IE6, and the legacy of that “better”-ness still screws things up. 

    Heterogeneity and competition advance things.

    • http://twitter.com/diegofrata diegofrata

      That’s because IE rendering was proprietary. Having an open standard and a standard open implementation is the way to go IMHO.

      • Stu Fox

        It shouldn’t matter if the rendering engine is open or closed, as long as the standards are clear and followed.  Sure there should be a good open source implementation, but if you can render to the standard then who cares if you’re open or closed?  That’s just ideology.

      • Flydog57

        Writing an app to be specific to a webkit extension is as bad as writing an app to be specific to something from IE.  You should be writing apps to modern standards, testing them quickly in the major browsers (IE9+, recent FF, Chrome, Opera) and walk away happy.  Don’t start using something in your apps until it is at least close to standardized.

        If you do want to do something snazzy that requires an extension for a particular browser, then expect that you are going to need to remove it when an equivalent standard gets published.  Also fall back gracefully (for example, don’t redirect Windows Phone users to google.com) when a user agent that doesn’t support that extension accesses your site.

  • SupaRawr93

    It’s more likely MS would say screw you to Google, Apple and the Webkit guys, side with Mozilla and stick all their might behind Gecko. Or even open-sourcing Trident and handing it over to them to improve all they want. Throwing in the towel and backing their competitors isn’t the Microsoft way.

  • Pundit

    IE will never use WebKit for the same reason that Apple never switched to Windows for their Mac hardware.  It isn’t about the market penetration – it’s about having a differentiator.  If everyone is on WebKit then how does one company differentiate their product from the competition; different buttons. Awesome.  Give me higher, longer, faster, stronger any day.

    • bnlf

      performance? features? security? having webkit as their rendering engine has nothing to do with differentiation. Everyone is using EXCEPT IE. I’m a big fan of Microsoft but i have to agree on this one. IE is winning nothing by its mulishness.

      • wp7luvr

        FireFox doesn’t use WebKit

        • bnlf

          yet it implements so much code from webkit that works like a charm on many sites.

          • http://www.facebook.com/hampus.sjoberg Hampus Sjöberg

            What?
            Firefox still uses gecko and will always do.
            Webkit isn’t the web.

  • http://twitter.com/diegofrata diegofrata

    Take 

    • Rob Grainger

      Except that along the way they’ve baked in Linux-dependencies to Open Source projects that used to be cross-platform, breaking compatibility with products such as OpenBSD.

      I fundamentally disagree – having competing implementations of a standard can only be good for the market. In a market-driven world, lack of diversity leads to stagnation. IE6 failed in exactly this way – once it became dominant they didn’t really care anymore.

  • http://gcomputer.net/ Gray Knight

    Not a good idea

  • Eduardo Molteni

     The real problem with IE it’s not the engine: It’s that they have the old model of new OS version, new IE version. And you can’t install IE 8 or 9 in XP, but Chrome runs very well. With the new fast pace of advances in HTML, JS and CSS you better recommend your clients to use a browser that updates often and that updates silently while you are not looking.

    • Flydog57

      WinXP finally dies in a year.  I’ll be dancing on its grave next April.

      Microsoft doesn’t really have “old model of new OS version, new IE version”.  However, they don’t necessarily support new versions of their software on OSes that are in “extended support”.  This isn’t a problem with other OS vendors – by Microsoft standards, their support only lasts a brief time (Microsoft supports their OSes for at least 5 years in mainstream support (it was 8 years of mainstream support for XP because Vista took so long), plus 5 more years of extended support).  Do modern versions of Safari run on circa 2002 Macs?  Why would you expect modern versions of IE run on an OS that shipped in 2001?

      • Eduardo Molteni

        “WinXP finally dies in a year” <- Do you mean that millions of PCs with XP will be automatically upgraded?
        "Why would you expect modern versions of IE run on an OS that shipped in 2001" <- Because Google (you know, other company) Chrome does.

  • Rubbish

    Do you want WebKit become IE6?
     

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2YX7HY5JXLDI7LIN4JZZ6EHLDI Wander

    What I don’t get is why Microsoft does not open source the components as Trident (which don’t generate profit “as binary” anyway). Looks like the company is still stuck in its ideological fight against the development model. I am sure with openness Trident would quickly surpass Webkit, which originated from KDE khtml, or Gecko.

  • http://www.facebook.com/naoya.yamaguchi.773 Naoya Yamaguchi

    Tell the same to Apple, too. They deviated from Webkit to Webkit2.