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Opera reaches 300m users and converts to WebKit

Embraces Google's favorite standards - V8, Chromium and WebKit - leaving Mozilla and IE isolated in mobile

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 13 February, 2013

READ MORE: Opera | Applications (Browser) | Standards | Android

The Apple/Google duopoly has scored another victory in defining the mobile web, with Opera Software deciding to adopt the WebKit rendering engine they favor for its famous browsers. It will also use the open source Chromium framework which also underpins Google Chrome.

Opera is abandoning its own Presto rendering engine and will release a new WebKit-based browser, codenamed Ice, this year, initially for iOS. The Norwegian firm will also adopt Chromium at the expense of its own framework on the desktop, and its Carakan JavaScript engine in favour of Google's V8.


This marks a significant change of direction for Opera, which under the leadership of its founder, Jon von Tetzchner, was fiercely independent and proud of its own technologies. The company was one of those which did not line up behind Google when it acquired the originator of the VP8 technology, the basis of the search giant's WebM alternative to the H.264/5 video codec. Google promotes its own technology as the standard for HTML5 browsers, because it is open source while MPEG LA's H.264 is licensed. The shift to Chromium means that future Opera iterations will have built-in support for WebM, Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis media codecs, but not natively for H.264 and MP3.

However, WebKit has certainly won the browser war and Opera, which has just hit 300m users, needs to continue to build on that base, not play the plucky underdog. "300m marks the first lap, but the race goes on," said CEO Lars Boilesen in a statement. "On the final stretch up to 300m users, we have experienced the fastest acceleration in user growth we have ever seen. Now, we are shifting into the next gear to claim a bigger piece of the pie in the smartphone market."

That means pursuing its current strategies of getting its browsers, which are very efficient in terms of network and device resources, into handsets for emerging markets, often working with operators or midrange OEMs. WebKit makes it an easier sell to developers, since the only major mobile stand-outs are now Windows Phone/IE (which uses Trident) and Mozilla Firefox Mobile (Gecko).

Some of Opera's efforts were prefigured last year when Yandex, the 'Russian Google', released its own browser which combined Chromium, WebKit and Opera's Turbo engine, which uses server-side compression to reduce data strain on the network (and users' data charges). Opera and Nokia's Express browser for Series 40 are the outstanding examples of these efficient offerings, which will become increasingly important as large populations in emerging nations gain their first webphones.

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