Think One Fewer Browser Means Less Work? Think Again
Opera software is abandoning its homegrown rendering engine in favor of the open source WebKit rendering engine. Many developers seem to think this means one fewer browser to test in, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.
The problem with the dream of less testing because there’s more WebKit is that “WebKit” can mean many things. The WebKit in Safari does not have all the features you’ll find in the WebKit that powers Google Chrome. The situation gets even more complicated with mobile where there are about as many different versions of WebKit as there are browsers.
As Mozilla’s Rob Hawkes and Robert Nyman point out in the post WebKit: An Objective View, that means “each browser will still have its own quirks, performance differences, design, and functionality. These should all be tested for.”
Worse, individual WebKit browsers can pick and choose which APIs to include in their final builds, which means just because something is available in WebKit, does not mean it’s available in, for example, both Chrome and Safari. Couple this with Safari’s relatively slow release schedule and just the two major desktop WebKit variants are going to require testing to make sure everything works.
Throwing a WebKit-based Opera in the mix just means another WebKit browser that needs to be part of your testing.
There’s nothing wrong with this state of affairs, nor will it change all that much when Opera is on WebKit as well, but it won’t mean less testing, nor is it going to make web developers’ lives any easier (especially since most of them weren’t testing in Opera anyway).
Testing will always be a necessary part of web development, but the danger that Hawkes and Nyman foresee is that developers will test less because they assume that if something works in one version of WebKit it will work in all of them. While that hasn’t happened yet, the CSS prefix debacle certainly doesn’t bode well for the WebKit-heavy future.