Mozilla, Google, Opera introduce new Web browser engines

The mobile Web browsing experience could be in for some big changes and competition after announcements Wednesday

There could be big changes coming to the fiddly and sometimes annoying Web browsing experience on cellphones.

In apparently uncoordinated announcements on Wednesday, the Mozilla Foundation, the organization behind the Firefox Web browser, said it is working with Samsung on a new Web browser engine for cellphones, and Google introduced a new open-source engine that will also be adopted by Opera.

The browser engine lies at the core of a Web browser. It interprets the HTML code and decides how content is displayed on the screen. It's because different desktop browsers use different engines that pages sometimes load faster or look better in one browser than in another, so the choice of engine directly affects the user experience.

In the first announcement of the day, Mozilla disclosed it has been working with Samsung on a new engine call Servo.

"Servo is an attempt to rebuild the Web browser from the ground up on modern hardware, rethinking old assumptions along the way," wrote Brendan Eich, Mozilla's CTO, on the organization's blog.

"This means addressing the causes of security vulnerabilities while designing a platform that can fully utilize the performance of tomorrow's massively parallel hardware to enable new and richer experiences on the Web," he wrote.

The engine will be written in a programming language called Rust, which Mozilla said it developed with a community of developers.

The first implementation of Servo will be for smartphones based on Google's Android operating system running processors from ARM. That describes the vast majority of non-Apple cellphones in the market today and could mean trouble for Google, which is pushing its Chromium browser at smartphone users.

Later Wednesday, Google said it was launching Blink, a variant of the open-source WebKit engine. WebKit forms the basis for the current Chromium browser and Apple's Safari browser, but Google said it was getting harder to use for Chromium as Chromium has grown in complexity.

"This was not an easy decision," wrote Adam Barth, a Google software engineer, on the company's Chromium blog. "We know that the introduction of a new rendering engine can have significant implications for the web. Nevertheless, we believe that having multiple rendering engines--similar to having multiple browsers--will spur innovation and over time improve the health of the entire open web ecosystem."

Blink, which is open source, will also form the base of the Opera Web browser, according to a posting by an Opera employee on his personal blog.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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