John Gruber, writing at Daring Fireball:
This difference in priorities is why Google forked Chrome’s rendering engine from WebKit in 2013. Which, in turn, makes me wonder what the endgame will look like with Microsoft adopting Chrome. Is Microsoft really going to stick with Chrome, under Google’s ultimate control, or will they fork it, the way Google forked WebKit?
Gruber’s question is the wrong one. The concern isn’t that Microsoft might fork Blink — the rendering engine that underlies not just Chrome but the Chromium open-source base upon which Chrome is built — but that its choice of Google’s project over another puts more control of the internet under Google’s purview.
An argument for this move goes something like this: As a contributing partner to the Chromium project, Microsoft can have a hand in directing its future and lessen the impact that Google has.
It’s a nice story but one that seems hollow at best. Google is already synonymous with search and the company’s web browser has become the default for many, commanding 63.6% of the desktop and notebook market according to NetApplications.com.
Other browsers have beaten Edge in adopting Blink, most notably Opera which gave up its homegrown Presto rendering engine for Chromium’s WebKit implementation in 2013 before adopting Blink later that year after Google forked it from WebKit.
In addition to Blink, there are two other open-source browser rendering engines:
- WebKit, stewarded by Apple and available under the GNU LGPL license.
- Gecko, stewarded by Mozilla and available under the Mozilla Public license.
WebKit continues its development separate from Blink and underpins Safari on macOS and iOS and not much else, while Mozilla forms the basis of the Firefox browser, Thunderbird email client and other projects.
Microsoft’s choice of Chromium raises more questions than it answers, most notably what makes Google’s project a more attractive choice than Apple’s or Mozilla’s especially considering how much Google is contained within Chromium.
Brave is a new browser that aims to upend online content consumption by focusing on privacy and providing new ways for creators to get paid.
Brave for desktop is built on top of the open-source Chromium project. We add features on top of what is already there and we also remove features or pieces of the code. These deviations we make that touch the core Chromium code are done via patching.
If so much attention needs to be paid to removing the parts of Chromium that are too influenced by Google, why use it at all? WebKit and Gecko are similarly open source and are not under Google’s watchful eye.
This, then, makes me question why Microsoft, Opera and Brave have all elected to go with Chromium. Is there a technical issue that makes it worth stripping Google out? Is Chromium seen as so much better than WebKit and Gecko?
Whatever the true motivation, Opera, Brave and now Microsoft have joined Google’s browser project, giving Chromium more sway over the internet at large and further marginalizing both WebKit and Mozilla.
As a Brave user, I’m caught in the middle — supportive of Brave’s mission to change how the web works while trusting that all things Google are stripped away.
The concentration of resources from Google, Opera, Brave and soon Microsoft on Chromium and Blink will undoubtedly improve it, thus potentially making Brave a better browser.
I worry that Chromium’s gain will be WebKit’s and Mozilla’s loss, thus further centralizing a network that was never meant to be centralized.