Now that Google is going its own way and developing its rendering engine independently of the WebKit project, both sides of the split are starting the work of removing all the things they don’t actually need.
This is already causing some tensions among WebKit users and Web developers, as it could lead to the removal of technology that they use or technology that is in the process of being standardized. This is leading some to question whether Apple is willing or able to fill in the gaps that Google has left.
Since Google first released Chrome in 2008, WebCore, the part of WebKit that does the actual CSS and HTML processing, has had to serve two masters. The major contributors to the project, and the contributors with the most widely used browsers, were Apple and Google.
Google said that the decision to fork was driven by engineering concerns and that forking would enable faster development by both sides. That work is already under way, and both teams are now preparing to rip all these unnecessary bits out.
Right now, it looks like Google has it easier. So far, only Google and Opera are planning to use Blink, and Opera intends to track Chromium (the open source project that contains the bulk of Chrome’s code) and Blink anyway, so it won’t diverge too substantially from either. This means that Google has a fairly free hand to turn features that were optional in WebCore into ones that are permanent in Blink if Chrome uses them, or eliminate them entirely if it doesn’t.
Samsung, for example, is using WebKit with V8. But with Google’s fork decision, there’s now nobody maintaining the code that glues V8 to WebCore. The route that Apple wants to take is to purge this stuff and leave it up to third-party projects to maintain their variants themselves. This task is likely to become harder as Cupertino increases the integration between JSC and WebCore.
One plausible outcome for this is further consolidation among the WebKit variants. For those dead set on using V8, switching to Blink may be the best option. If sticking with WebKit is most important, reverting to JSC may be the only practical long-term solution.
Google was an important part of the WebKit project, and it was responsible for a significant part of the codebase’s maintenance. The company’s departure has left various parts of WebKit without any developers to look after them. Some of these, such as some parts of the integrated developer tools, are probably too important for Apple to abandon—even Safari uses them.
Others, however, may be culled—even if they’re on track to become Web standards. For example, Google developed code to provide preliminary support for CSS Custom Properties (formerly known as CSS Variables). It was integrated into WebKit but only enabled in Chromium. That code now has nobody to maintain it, so Apple wants to remove it.
This move was immediately criticized by Web developer Jon Rimmer, who pointed out that the standard was being actively developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), was being implemented by Mozilla, and was fundamentally useful. The developer suggested that Apple had two options for dealing with Google’s departure from the project: either by “cutting out [Google-developed] features and continuing at a reduced pace, or by stepping up yourselves to fill the gap.”
If Apple doesn’t address Rimmer’s concerns, and if Blink appears to have stronger corporate backing and more development investment, one could see a future in which more projects switch to using Blink rather than WebKit. Similarly, Web developers could switch to Blink—with a substantial share of desktop usage and a growing share of mobile usage—and leave WebKit as second-best.