Spartan and Vivaldi: The new kids on the browser block

It’s a good time in browserland, with two new browsers set to enter the field in 2015. Microsoft is offering Project Spartan, powered by a new rendering engine, EdgeHTML.dll, while ex-Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner’s new start-up is offering Vivaldi, which uses the Blink rendering engine. Browser diversity is alive and kicking, it seems, and that can only be a good thing.

While some have criticised Microsoft for not taking the opportunity to adopt WebKit, the company’s choice to go with their own rendering engine is good for the health of all browsers.

As Adrian Roselli points out: ‘[We’ve] seen what happens when one browser gets too big (Internet Explorer) and how we spend the next decade-plus digging out from the mess.’
It’s a point Bruce Lawson made back in 2010, in a piece titled ‘In praise of Internet Explorer 6‘: ‘The trouble with IE6 was not IE6 itself but but that once IE6 was released, Microsoft stopped innovating.’

Browser market share 2015 (Source: Statcounter)

Chrome’s rendering engine, Blink, is a fork of WebKit; and Chrome currently enjoys approximately 41% of the browser market share —more than Firefox and IE combined. Safari, meanwhile, the original WebKit browser, makes up around 10% of the market. Between them, then, these WebKit browsers have the majority of the market sewn up. If Microsoft had chosen to go with a WebKit-based browser, it’d actively be helping to bring back the very bad old days of IE6 that the company is trying to put behind it with Project Spartan.

Note that a mobile-only or desktop-only view of this data would paint a somewhat different picture. For example, UC Web is a very popular browser in both India and China, in third position in both cases according to DeviceAtlas data. Equally, a desktop-only view would show Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in a more commanding position.

And we can’t place all of the blame for everything that IE6 brought to pass squarely on Microsoft’s shoulders alone. Bruce Lawson again:
‘Developers were actively propping up IE6 for years and continued churning out IE-only code for ages because it was much easier for them to assume one platform and even code to its bugs rather than code to standards or cross-browser access… IE6 didn’t become a zombie despite designers and developers; it became a zombie because of the active support for a monoculture by application developers.’

Ed Bott asked at the end of last year: ‘After a decade, have the browser wars finally ended?’ and went on to conclude that they had, with Chrome top dog and everyone else in decline. But with Microsoft seemingly looking to gain ground back in the browser market with Spartan, and with Vivaldi offering an alternative to the Google behemoth, it’s probably safe to be cautiously optimistic that the chances of browser competition dying out—leaving us with stagnation and an absence of web standards—are slim. And that’s something to celebrate. The browser wars are dead! Long live the browser wars!

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