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February 21, 2013

WebKit, What is it and Why Should You Care?

In order to make sure you get the correct definition, here it is from the WebKit Open Source Project, “WebKit is an open source web browser engine. WebKit is also the name of the Mac OS X system framework version of the engine that's used by Safari, Dashboard, Mail, and many other OS X applications. WebKit's HTML and JavaScript code began as a branch of the KHTML and KJS libraries from KDE.” Although it has been used by Apple, currently developers are using it for many different platforms.

WebKit is the engine that drives Safari, but it also being used by Google Chrome, Opera and others. It uses standards-based technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets, Scalable Vector Graphics and the Document Object Model. When you hear WebKit is in Chrome or Opera, it does not mean it is the only thing driving these browsers. In the case of Chrome it uses V8 as its JavaScript engine while Opera uses V8 and the Chrome application of WebKit.

So you might be asking yourself if everyone is using it, what is the big deal? WebKit was announced by Apple in 2003 and the company open-sourced it in 2005, meaning anyone can do with it what their code writing skills will allow them. This invariably led to many different permutations of this browser engine, eventually getting better and better until major browsers start using it on their brand.

This might be a good thing to a certain extent, but some developers are concerned about the homogeneous effect WebKit might have on innovation. The argument holds true to a certain extent, but it only goes so far because everyone seems to have their own version designed specifically to make their application better.

As more tools are added to these open source applications they start morphing into an all-in-one product, and the conflict between different companies is the only thing stopping them from implementing a very useful tool. A case in point is WebRTC, where Firefox is willingly participating, but not in WebKit.

WebRTC is also an open source tool where developers can create high quality video and audio apps in a browser with HTML5 and JavaScript API’s. This eliminates the need to use plugins to carry a full audio/video conversation with another person. The simplicity of this tool makes it a no brainer, yet the same conflict as with WebKit exists between organizations and their preferred method of doing things.

This is understandable because revenue sources can be eliminated by adopting some of this technology. WebRTC for example can be applied on any webpage and be used for video conferencing, lectures, making calls and many other applications other companies provide for a fee. There are many complicated issues and eventually they will work themselves out because the market will determine who survives and who perishes.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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