Many people are familiar with the browser war of the 90s, where Microsoft and Netscape duked it out for Internet supremacy. Even more people know that Microsoft was the undisputed champion of that bout. Netscape continued to make browsers many years after, but its presence was never the same.

We are currently experiencing a browser war right now. Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google with Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome, respectively, are vying for top spot. For the first time in about two decades, Microsoft was not the top browser maker and instead, (relative) newcomers Google took the lead.

But there’s a hidden browser war going on that most people don’t even know exists: behind every browser there’s a rendering engine. The rendering engine is the main component of the browser that displays everything on the screen including the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It’s the heart of the browser.

There are currently five major browsers and four major rendering engines:

  • Internet Explorer uses Trident, a proprietary engine designed by Microsoft
  • Firefox uses Gecko, a free, open-source engine used in several other projects
  • Chrome and Safari both use Webkit, a free, open-source engine used in several other projects
  • Opera uses Presto, a proprietary engine designed by Opera

About a week ago Opera announced it would stop developing its proprietary rendering engine and instead use Webkit. Some thought this was a great move in standardizing the web while others thought it was in Opera’s best interests to continue developing its engine to help foster competition.

Personally, I’m not a fan of Webkit. I think Gecko is much better rendering engine (as you can tell from viewing this blog) and I think the way certain elements are rendered and the way fonts appear are much better in Gecko.

Webkit already holds approximately 40% of the browser rendering engine market share, with Trident and Gecko making up for the rest. I’m not sure how much Opera has, but considering its flagship browser only holds about 2% of the browser market share, I’m going to make the assumption that it’s a rather small piece of the pie.

So what does this mean for the future? Well, it’s considerably possible now that Webkit may become the favoured engine when developers, companies, corporations, and clients want web work done. That’s how business already operates now, doesn’t it? You cater to the largest market share (or at least, your largest market share). Despite Webkits 40%, things are pretty evenly split; there’s no obvious favouritism (that I can tell) but it’s possible that could change in a couple of years (much to my dismay).

What’s your take on this situation? Do you think things will start to tip in Webkit’s favour? Was Opera’s decision to abandon its proprietary rendering engine a good thing for the web or a bad thing?