I believe that 2008 will be notable for the second salvo in the browser wars, and although previous combatant Netscape is out of action, we now have a four-way battle on our hands. In fact, ‘browser wars’ may not be the best description any longer; perhaps ‘layout engine wars’ is a more accurate description. With all four major engines releasing new versions, it’s going to be exciting to watch.
The four contenders are:
IE8 New Engine: Will it be a successor to Trident or a brand new engine? Microsoft are playing their cards close to their chests on this one. It will be much more standards-compliant, but details of potential CSS 3 support are non-existent. Also, with IE7 still struggling to overtake IE6 in terms of popularity, will it make much of an impression this year?
Gecko/Firefox: Firefox 3 will probably be the first browser on the market to use Mozilla’s latest engine revision (1.9). It’s much faster than it’s predecessor and more standards-compliant, but doesn’t introduce many new CSS features; alpha channel for colours is the only notable new addition.
WebKit/Safari: Safari 3 is out for OS X and in beta on Windows, and leading Linux browser Konqueror will switch to Webkit for their next release. It’s very fast, and has lots of shiny new CSS 3 features (shadows, mutiple backgrounds, etc). Default (and only possible?) browser on the iPhone, but they won’t gain much headway on Windows machines unless they think about a redesign.
Presto/Opera: Still the minority desktop browser, Opera is huge on mobile and on the Wii. Their ‘Kestrel’ browser (version 9.5) has lots of new CSS 3 features and they’ve been working closely with major web app providers to make sure that the browser is compatible. Their suit against Microsoft could be a turning point for the company, but a decision may not be forthcoming in the near future.
It’s pretty exciting to have so much choice, and even more exciting to have them all be standards-compliant; this will allow web developers to concentrate more on user experience and less on cross-browser compatibility, while the browser makers can get on with providing new features for their users.
The dark horse in this race – and it seems strange to say this, as they are the market leaders – is Microsoft. We know almost nothing about IE8 yet, but if they come out with a genuinely radical product we could well see them take market share back from their competitors.
During the last browser war it was the developers and users who lost out, as websites were built to favour one browser over another or involved double the work to be compatible with both. This time, however, standards are a well-developed core around which the battle rotates; so whoever loses, we all win.
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I was pretty excited when I heard about Swift, but it’s nowhere near ready for use, and development on it is very, very slow. I’d rather Apple used some of the design sense they’re fabled for and realised that they need to tone down Safari for Windows.
Regarding IE8s “new engine” being “much more standards compliant”:
while mention was made of rewriting the engine, Chris Wilson, elsewhere, stated clearly to avoid misunderstanding that any rewriting for IE8 would be for layout and design and not rendering of elements by Trident.
In addition, passing Acid2 in no way assures that any browser is significantly more standards compliant. To quote WASP about Acid2:
(Well, my ISP is having ‘issues’ today so I can’t directly quote or link, but from memory only: ) Passing Acid2 does not guarantee any browser meets any standards requirement of any kind.
A few emails from Chris Mills at Opera have confirmed this. I do not believe passing Acid2 is the big thing everyone makes of it.
Happy New Year!!! :)
Very good article.
I think MS wont manage to get back market share because they are too far from other competitors in years and they arent working on CSS3 features. These new versions only can slow down their loss in share, until they catch others and start working on new features. Im even not sure with that as in IE7 some things breaks which are working in IE6 and the standard browsers. Oh wait they have at least one CSS3 feature word wrap from some old version :).
As for Opera i hope to see these round corners, but so far this is not happening, except that trick with svg. Its very surprisingly that round corners arent supported in the browser yet.
Btw i tried that browser Swift, and it crashed in less than 1 min :), however i will keep looking at it, they have long way to version 1.
what do you guys mean when saying “Default (and only possible?) browser on the iPhone, but they won’t gain much headway on Windows machines unless they think about a redesign.” why do you think a redesign is necessary for Safari to grab more market share?
Maybe, but there is at least one thing indicating IE8 will be more standards compliant: no hasLayout any more :) (http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-style/2007Dec/0151.html)
Opera’s engine is called Presto. The latest branch (included in 9.5/Kestrel and an early version in 9.0/Merlin) is Core-2.
I’m excited to see what Core-2 will contain, in regards to CSS3 when it is eventaully released in Kestrel. We have Web Fonts internally, but not in a desktop platform build, so I can’t promise it will be in Kestrel yet.
“… with IE7 still struggling to overtake IE6 in terms of popularity …”
There you have the single biggest argument that rules out Microsoft out as a winner in 2008 – unless of course they drastically change this upgrade path. With still more than 50% of our websites’ users surfing with IE6, IE7 is no relief, but yet another browser to test.
Of course I do hope IE8 will be the cutting edge standards browser, as it will be the one we’ll have to work with in 2011.
We’ve done a lot more for CSS in Gecko 1.9 than your article suggests.
CSS columns and inline-block and inline-table are at least worth a mention and there’s a lot more in new additions and bugfixing.
Wyścig testowych przeglądarek…
Konkurencja – dobra rzecz! Czas wojen przeglądarek (IE / Netscape) mamy dawno za sobą, ale zdaje się, że obserwujemy kolejny wyścig zbrojeń. Sztaby programistów Apple, Mozilla Foundation i Opera Software pracują w pocie czoła i z tygodnia na t…
[…] o wyścigu testowych przeglądarek. Dziś trafiłem na podobny artykuł na css3.info: 2008: the year of the layout engine. Peter Gasston pisze w nim o tym, co czeka nas w najbliższej przyszłości w świecie […]
webbedENVIRONMENTS » Blog Archive » 2008 Browser Preview says:Comment » January 3rd, 2008 at 12:13 am
[…] the W3C CSS work group, which keeps it’s own blog) has done an interesting a look ahead at what will be coming in 2008 from the main browser manufacturers. Like me, he’s excited to see all of the competition to the default browser–Internet […]
Either way, Web Developers will be loosing out again this year.
Unless Microsoft develops IE8 with Windows XP and Vista in-mind and pushes it as a NECESARY update for both platforms, developers will still be in the loss because we will still need to maintain IE6 operability for the mass-market share.
Why is the wide-spread acceptance and similarity of standards still not accomplished? The internet should’ve been built that way, in my humble opinion. I mean for goodness sake people, I’m only sixteen and I’m already annoyed with this.
@Asa: I’m not complaining about FF3, as I think the faster layout engine and better font rendering is a huge improvement already, but compared to the improved CSS 3 implementation – which is what we concentrate on here – in the latest Webkit & Presto engines, I think FF3 is slightly behind.
However, Peter, it may be noteworthy that Firefox 3 supports more selectors, as can be seen on the CSS Selectors testsuite on this very site…
But yeah, Firefox (or Gecko) is behind Webkit, but not far from Opera, I’d say… Even though it now has text-shadow, Opera still lacks border-radius and rgba that Firefox has.
@Stifu: I really don’t want to sound as if I’m knocking Firefox, as it’s still my browser of choice and FF3 is even better. However, in terms of CSS 3 implementation, it’s lagging slightly.
Also, FF3 is now feature complete, whereas Opera 9.5 will most likely have more features added to it before launch – including RGBA, I believe.
border-radius is a little contentious at the moment as there are two different implementations of it, although the Mozilla implementation looks set to be the standard.
Stifu: There are also a lot more CSS3 in Opera that isn’t on this site yet, and I’ve not had time to make demos of.
contenton every element (not just before and after), The
nav-* properties on Nintendo Internet Channel (I believe), much more relating to Media Queries than is shown here, Voice, Print media, etc.
Navarr: that’s true, but that sounds a bit hacky (that’s the price to pay to use the very latest CSS features)… But that still has the merit to keep you away from having to add extra markup.
Peter: I know you like Firefox, I just thought I’d highlight the fact more selectors are supported in version 3, which are other new CSS3-related implementations, other than rgba… :)
David: Yeah, I know about that Opera handles the content property as defined by the CSS3 spec… but I just don’t see that as quite as useful as the other major CSS3 features everyone is looking forward to, but that could be because I’m not used to think it terms of “content” yet.
I brought up rgba and border-radius because both are already supported by Firefox 3 and Webkit, which means that if Opera supported them too, we could finally use them in our pages and stay fully compatible with all of the good browsers.
But I’m aware the same can be said about some features that only Firefox lacks (ignoring IE…), like text-shadow, as I said above…
Stifu: I guess most useful depends on the design, context and and the developer. I find the
nth-* selectors very useful, yet can’t really be used as only Opera and Konqueror support them. They are every bit as useful as border radius, and without them extra markup (class names) or script is often needed. It is also harder to gracefully degrade without support in many sitations, while lacking border-radius or such just means it doesn’t look quite so pretty.
As mentioned above, you can often get a similar effect in Opera using SVG, which isn’t as ideal as using the same CSS as other browsers, but gets the same result without extra markup. There are some restrictions though, which could probably be worked around by someone better at SVG than me. It may be that things like border-radius can be implemented using the existing code used by SVG, but I don’t program the browser, so I’m not sure if that is the case or not.
contentvery useful too, especially when styling buttons, and wanting to replace the existing text with something else or a icon.
I don’t want to knock FF as it is a good browser, with nice standards support, but I too think it is behind in CSS3, especially when it was probably in a leading position before FF3. The advancments in WebKit and Opera from previous version to the next version (already released in WebKit’s case) seem to be much bigger than what currently stands from FF2 to FF3.
I did a quick test a while ago, and I may have missed a few properties that I didn’t realise were supported in each browser, but Opera had the most, followed by Safari, then Firefox. I don’t claim that was a 100% accurate study though. In most cases it is irrelevent anyway, as until IE catch up, CSS3 can only be used on personal sites and such, and not real world sites with clients. The exception is those that just add a bit more eye candy, but I’d suspect many clients would still complain that it looked better in none IE browsers, and they’d want it to look the same.
Having said all that, I’m aware that there are things that FF and Safari support that we don’t, and we will look into them. There can be no promises that they will be added before Opera 9.5 ships however. We also want to make sure we implement the correct spec, instead of wasting time developing things that may change radically before the spec is finallised. RGBA and HSLA (we recently added HSL) are two things (for want of a better word) that are stable, so should be safe to implement. border-radius si something that is more unstable (as Peter mentioned) and would be nice to implement when we have further clarification on the spec. I think that is close to being resolved however. I’m quitely confident we will improve further before shipping, but that depends on many factors, such as shipping date, resources etc.
This article, and some comments too, isn’t about how browsers work. For us, front-end developers, it is the layout engine. But browsers, and including the browser wars, are far more than that. Only a very small piece of all browser users know and care about the layout engine.
Privacy, security, usability, extendability and accessibility of the browser are much more ‘seen’ by the user of the browser. The browser wars are fought around that.
What Microsoft at this moment does is making us a bit more happy, by saying the layout engine will be a bit better. Finally they are awake on that point. It is okey to discuss it, don’t misunderstand that. I actually love what Microsoft plans to do with their layout engine.
Fact is that Opera is doing something a bit wrong too. Sometimes I’d like to use Opera too, but I use a lot of extensions for Firefox. For me a reason to stay using Firefox, instead of using Opera. I know their layout engine can do amazing things, I have seen it doing that (wow, how did I do that?!).
Getting people know about the ‘thing’ browsers would be a very great first step. Who will start doing that on a large scale?
Web standards don’t make your average joe blow switch to another browser. For the most part they don’t care if a web page is a few pixels off one way or another. What joe blow cares about is security and features. Firefox’s market share so far is primarily only the web dev. and IT crowd switching to it.
The strongest thing that Firefox has that other browsers are unable to replicate is their addon community. The shear number of gadgets you can add to your browser makes it appealing to average users.
Layout engine fixes will only convert the power users.
The comments on this page seem to be showing what the layout engine was will be all about. I can imagine hearing/reading similar things all year.
Now, I must say I haven’t been doing any web development during the browser wars. I was (and still am actually) an IT person. Because of that experience back then though, as well as the one now, I can tell you that a layout engine sometimes IS the reason an average joe may switch. Well, at least in the Firefox/Opera tie. I’ve seen sites that when encountering Opera warn the user that the browser is not considered “Compatible”. It’s fortunate that those same sites allow the user to keep going non the less, but still, to avoid this warning, users sometimes switch their browser, especially if they use the site often.
In the case of breaking out of IE… unfortunatly, the reason is usually because they’ve “heared it from a friend”, which if you digg a little more, you’ll see is either an IT person, and/or a web developer.
I very rarely get people ask questions like “Is Internet Explorer secure enough?”, “Are there other browsers?”, but when I do, I always get the follow up “Which one do YOU think is better? Firefox or Opera?”.
I’ll probably make the fans of both browsers happy now by saying that my answer is usually “I have no definate preference. Both have their pros and cons. Both have Bulgarian* translations, both are free, both are more secure than IE, or on the very least, get patched quicker when a vulnerability is found, and so forth.” and after that I make a short review of the unique features in each browser to help the user make a choise. I menion Opera’s Voice and Speed Dial, the search (which, no offence to FF, is better in Opera), the fast rendering speed (which usually tips the scale), and sometimes a few others that don’t come into mind now.
And for Firefox, usually I only mention the Add-on arhitecture, which again, is usually what tips the scale for others.
Where I live though, most people prefer Opera. The reason is that average joe likes to have everything out of the box. Only power users care about extensions. And by “power users” I mean something between an average joe and an IT man, certainly not a web developer or a programmer.
*I’m a Bulgarian, and as you can guess, localized apps attract people, so this is a definite plus for both Firefox and Opera. Kind of explains why they are more popular in Europe than in US. If there were language packs that made only IE in a certain language, that would probably tip the scale for MS’ market share here. People think of a browser, and thus about its add-ons (language packs included) as something different than the OS. Only MS thinks otherwise.
@Peter Gasston: Safari’s brushed chrome look fits nicely into the OS X look & feel, but on Windows it looks like a squat, grey monstrosity. It feels clunky and awkward.
That is your opinion, and one I don’t share. Personally, I think Safari brings elegance and sophisticated design to an OS that is too often lacking it. Not everyone has to agree on this. But if your contention is that there is more of a “layout engine war” than an actual browser war, then you should not mention elements of the browser chrome to support your argument.
IMO – the mobile space is going to be far more interesting than the traditional computing one, as it kind of sets the clock back – from where I’m sitting in looks like Opera and WebKit look like they will be far more dominant than mobile IE.
Given that there is still a need to design layouts that acknowledge the physical screen size of mobile devices, it strikes me that this is an opportunity to define a new baseline. On ‘real’ computers we’re still stuck with being limited by what IE supports.
What’s positive is seeing competition to implement standards.
[…] Happy New Year to all! After a nice long break over Christmas and the New Year, in which I wrote not a single line of code, I’m now back in the swing of things and looking forward to all the desktop browser goodness to come this year. […]
WebGyver - Tools and Resources for Successful Web Design, Web Development, Web Applications and Web Business Marketing says:Comment » January 30th, 2008 at 5:59 pm
[…] 2008: the year of the layout engine […]